From COSMOS: “CubeSats: exploring other planets on a budget”

Cosmos Magazine bloc


26 May 2017
Cathal O’Connell

Anthony Calvert
Hitchhiking could be the new way to see the solar system. No towel required.
Name: Mars Cube One (MarCO)
Destination: Martian orbit
Mission cost:
(MarCO) US$13 million,
(Insight) US$425 million
Launch Date: 20 May 2018
Mars Arrival: 26 November 2018
Dimensions (while stowed): 36.6 x 24.3 x 4.6 x 11.8 cm.
Mass: 14 kg

Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.” – Douglas Adams

Exploring the solar system is absurdly expensive. Even a single mission, such as NASA’s US$675 million InSight probe to Mars, scheduled to launch in May 2018, would eclipse the total science budget of most nations.

NASA Mars Insight Lander

But with tiny, hitchhiking satellites called CubeSats, there may finally be a way to explore other planets on a shoestring.

Tagging along on that InSight mission will be two CubeSats – small, boxy satellites the size of a carry-on suitcase. Built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, these Mars Cube One (or MarCO) probes will be the first CubeSats to voyage to another planet. If they pull off their US$13 million mission – peanuts compared with any previous interplanetary mission – MarCO could lead to a shift in how we explore the solar system, even opening the doors to smaller nations to stake a claim. Space travel finally has an economy-class fare.

CubeSats were originally designed as a training tool, so university students could design and build satellites in the timeline of a semester. The basic idea was to cram the instrumentation into a standard template: a cube with 10 cm sides.

Almost 20 years on, more than 500 cubesats have been launched successfully into orbit, with another 600 launches planned for 2017 alone. CubeSats have turned into the great leveller of modern space exploration, achievable within the budget of schools, universities, or even crowdfunding campaigns.

See the full article here .

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