Sun. Mar 26th, 2023
A proposed FemtoSat is shown in space, with a penny for scale.

A proposed FemtoSat is shown in space, with a penny for scale.

Arizona state

The miniaturization of space continues unabated. First came CubeSats, which were about 11 cm long and weighed no more than 1.33 kg. These small research payloads have helped develop a small satellite-launching industry, and using the International Space Station to deploy them has become one of the national laboratory’s most popular commercial activities.

However, the evolution of satellites from thousands of kilograms to a single kilogram seems unstoppable. On Thursday. Arizona State University has announced that it is developing FemtoSats, a 3 cm cube with a mass of only 35 g. These “SunCubes” grew out of a research project started in 2014 by Jekan Thangavelautham, a professor in the university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

The FemtoSats will be deployed in an almost matryoshka doll-like fashion – from a CubeSat equipped with a Jack-in-the-box style spring. According to the developers, this mechanism will allow the FemtoSat standard to be adapted to the CubeSat standard, allowing FemtoSats to be carried as additional payload on CubeSat missions. A single deployer can release 27 FemtoSats.

The push for smaller payloads is driven by launch costs. Even with their smaller size, it costs about $100,000 to put a CubeSat into orbit and maybe $10,000 to $50,000 to develop and prepare one for launch. According to the Arizona State developers, it costs about $1,000 to get a FemtoSat to the International Space Station for deployment and $3,000 to send them directly to low Earth orbit for deployment. The launch cost for escaping Earth’s orbit will be about $27,000.

A single, a three-tiered version of a FemtoSat.
Enlarge / A single, a three-tiered version of a FemtoSat.

Charlie Leight/ASU now

“By reducing launch costs, we hope that a wider community of educators, researchers and hobbyists can develop their own spacecraft,” the developers write in a paper detailing the design specifications for the FemtoSats. “The standard targets personal, scientific, private and government cargoes.”

Thangavelautham said he envisioned at least four main uses for FemtoSats: providing a hands-on design, integration, and testing experience for students from high school through college; miniature versions of current experiments; experiments with small centrifuges to perform experiments with artificial gravity, with liquids, solid particles and for biochemical and pharmaceutical research; and imaging. “It’s like having your own GoPro in space,” he said. “That would give you an unobstructed view of the front seat into space.”

According to the Tauri Group, the global satellite market has grown from $89 billion in 2005 to $203 billion in 2014. The group’s report also noted dramatic growth in the CubeSat industry, from fewer than 20 deployments in 2011 to 130 in 2014 But another market report from SpaceWorks predicted that the biggest growth in coming years would not come in CubeSats, but in 1kg to 10kg satellites. They could still carry small but more capable loads.

However, Arizona State does not appear to be aiming for world domination of the space satellite business. On the contrary, with its low-cost FemtoSat program and relatively simple payloads, the university researchers seem primarily motivated by making space accessible to everyone, from garage hobbyists to college students to perhaps even high school students with ambitious science fair projects.

By akfire1

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