Meet the Cool Satellites That NASA Will Send Into Space



By Neel V. Patel

For the past six years, NASA has been building a new launch apparatus designed to once again take us beyond Earth’s orbit, to Mars, and beyond. And in just a little more than two years, the Space Launch System will embark on its inaugural launch and separate from the Orion spacecraft, which will circle the moon and eventually return to Earth.

Accompanying Orion on that 2018 mission will be 13 small objects known as CubeSats, which illustrate what the future of space exploration and research will be: efficient, cost-effective, and taking advantage of the most innovative science and technology breakthroughs to date. NASA has finally revealed what kinds of CubeSats are hitching a ride with Orion and heading off into deep space, and they look pretty fantastic.

They represent, in the words of NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman at today’s announcement, “the synergy of where we can do science and technology.”

To review: CubeSats are basically cheap, miniature satellites that are basically as big as a shoebox, and can act as a type of multipurpose tool for all kinds of projects. The first CubeSats were launched in 2003, but they’ve exploded in popularity starting this decade, thanks to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative that provides opportunities for students and research teams from around the world to send CubeSats to the International Space Station.

Until now, CubeSats have primarily been used for educational purposes, according to Michael Seablom, chief technologist for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Even when they’ve been used as a part of scientific research, it has been in a pedestrian manner that’s non-essential to the study at large.

Seablom and others hope to change that very soon. The SLS-Orion integrated launch — set for September 2018 — is a —> Read More