Tiny Stamp-Sized Satellites Carried by Endeavour into Space

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Imagine peewee satellites the size of pennies tumbling through space like interstellar insects, collecting data and transmitting it home.

Stop imagining, because three stamp-sized prototypes designed by Cornell scientists went up with space shuttle Endeavour as it flew into orbit Monday morning. Their destination: the International Space Station, where deployed, they’ll cling like barnacles to the ISS’s exterior, gathering data about the void and transmitting it realtime.

If all goes as planned, these micro-satellites could one day voyage to planets like Saturn, where they might rove through the planet’s atmosphere to amass information about its makeup firsthand.

Their inspiration? Dust.

“Motivated by dust’s unique behavior, we seek to study the orbital dynamics of extremely small bodies and pursue the development of a spacecraft small enough to capitalize on these kinetics,” reads an overview of the prototype, dubbed “Sprite,” on Cornell’s project website. “In pursuit of this goal, we are working to create a fully self-sustaining spacecraft capable of demonstrating significant, useful propellantless propulsion by virtue of its small length scale.”

The mini-satellites are one-inch square, and will remain in space for several years collecting information about conditions in space before returning to Earth.

Their other inspiration? Saving money, of course. Satellites can cost hundreds of millions to launch and maintain.

“We’re actually trying to create a new capability and build it from the ground up,” said Peck. “We want to learn what’s the bare minimum we can design for communication from space.”

(via L.A. Times)