Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
The competition heats up: In 2014 more cubesats were launched than during the industry’s first ten years.
Without doubt the concept of cubesats is now taking the satellite industry by storm, mainly because of the advent of new electronic miniaturization. However, the most fascination part of this story was how the concept was born:
In 1999, Puig-Suari met with Bob Twiggs, at the time an aerospace engineer at Stanford University, to discuss ways of getting more student projects into space. “We had to do something to get more opportunities to launch these things,” recalls Twiggs, now at Morehead State University in Kentucky. They focused on slimming down the spacecraft, because weight drives up the cost of reaching orbit.
Over lunch at a sandwich shop in San Luis Obispo, Twiggs and Puig-Suari sketched out options on a napkin. They thought hard about the potential capabilities of a 10-centimeter cube with a mass limit of 1 kilogram—the size and weight of a liter of water. Clad in solar cells, the cube would eke out perhaps a watt of power, enough to power a small computer and a radio: “a Sputnik,” Puig-Suari says. Back at Stanford, Twiggs found the perfect life-size demonstration model: a plastic box used for storing the insanely popular stuffed animals known as Beanie Babies. A standard was born.
Read the whole thing. The low cost of these tiny satellites is about to revolutionize the entire unmanned space industry.