Hundreds of tiny, inexpensive satellites are being sent into orbit every year. Here’s how they’ll change our relationship with the world around us.
Nanosatellites – tiny satellites you can hold in your hand – are being launched into space at unprecedented rates.
As the pace of technological development speeds up, making it less and less expensive to send a “nanosat” into orbit, these machines could provide a value to society that extends far beyond space exploration.
In the future, nanosatellites will transform a variety of industries that utilize space information – from more accurate weather and climate predictions to better monitoring (and safety) of air and sea traffic to smarter forecasting of crop yields and commodities.
What are nanosatellites?
The International Space Station, currently the largest satellite in orbit around the earth, measures ~356 feet by ~240 feet.
Nanosatellites, on the other hand, are small satellites with a mass between 1 kg and 10 kg, or just 2.2 lbs to 22 lbs. Some nanosatellites are as small as just ten cubic centimeters. Yet they possess many of the same antennas, sensors, and control systems that make larger satellites so useful for space exploration and monitoring.
Nanosats that take a 10×10×10-unit cubic structure are known as CubeSats. A single-unit (or 1U) CubeSat has a mass no greater than 1.33 kg (2.93 lbs), but can be stacked with others to create 2U, 3U, or 6U rectangular models.
Until a few years ago, it cost at least $2M to build a functional satellite, regardless of size. Now, students and scientists can create nanosats using DIY kits and off-the-shelf components – allowing the machines to be made with budgets in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Launching a nanosat is also far cheaper than sending a normal satellite to space, which can cost many millions of dollars. These tiny “sats” can be launched en masse via ride-sharing on rockets, though the costs vary drastically based on satellite mass, distance into space, and nature or “payload” of the space mission.
Startup Open Cosmos, for example, provides “enabling services” for taking customers’ satellite plans from design to launch (in under 10 months) at prices starting around $630,000. Their one-stop-shop offering includes things like mission simulation, testing, and insurance.Spaceflight, on the other hand, offers straightforward commercial pricing for ride-shares that can be booked within weeks of a pre-scheduled rocket launch – making it possible to send a 3U CubeSat to “low earth orbit” (LEO) for as little as $295,000.As more and more nanosatellites are sent to space by universities, tech companies, government entities, and private citizens alike, they’ll provide comprehensive “coverage” of earth at an incredibly low cost – leading to game-changing transformations across each of the sectors discussed below....MUCH MORE