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A small satellite, miniaturized satellite, or smallsat is a satellite of low mass and size, usually under 1,200 kg (2,600 lb). While all such satellites can be referred to as "small", different classifications are used to categorize them based on mass. Satellites can be built small to reduce the large economic cost of launch vehicles and the costs associated with construction. Miniature satellites, especially in large numbers, may be more useful than fewer, larger ones for some purposes – for example, gathering of scientific data and radio relay. Technical challenges in the construction of small satellites may include the lack of sufficient power storage or of room for a propulsion system.
What is Nanosatellit ?
We tend to think of satellites as huge spacecraft that tower over the engineers who build them. Consider Envisat, SOHO and GOCE — all ESA satellites similar in size to a small bus. But over the last twenty years, miniature satellites called CubeSats have been shaking up the space industry, making accessing space easier and cheaper for those who could previously only dream of it.
CubeSats are typically built up from standard cubic units each measuring 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm — just a bit bigger than a Rubik’s cube! The number of units depends on the CubeSat’s mission, but tends to be between 2 and 12, resulting in a mass of just 1–10 kg. These little satellites have a fraction of the mass, and cost, of more traditional satellites.
Having initially been developed as educational tools, CubeSats are increasingly being put to active use in orbit for technology demonstration, scientific studies, and even commercial purposes. And just like typical satellites, they are custom built to fulfil the specific requirements of their mission.
CubeSats tend to hitch a ride into space using extra space available on rockets, meaning lots of launch opportunities and low launch costs. They are packed in a container which, at the push of a button, ejects them into space via a spring system. A similar technique is used to deploy CubeSats from the International Space Station (ISS), where they are launched out of the Japanese module, Kibo
These small satellites provide affordable access to space for small companies, research institutes and universities. Their modular design means that subsystems are available off-the-shelf from different suppliers and can be stacked together according to the needs of the mission. This allows CubeSat projects to be readied for flight extremely quickly — typically within one or two years.
CubeSats are now commonly used in low Earth orbit for applications such as remote sensing and communications. But as engineers become more familiar with the technology, CubeSats are beginning to venture farther afield. Whether it’s to the Moon, Mars, or even further, these tiny spacecraft are certainly changing the game when it comes to space exploration
Nanosatellites vs Conventional SatellitesHumankind successfully sent its first artificial satellites into the Earth’s orbit in 1957, with the USSR’s Sputnik models. Since then and up until the end of the 20th century, the world’s superpowers, led by their governments, launched hundreds of satellites, competing in a race to explore space in a series of increasingly ambitious and complex projects.
The first Sputnik weighed 80 kg and the second over 500. Today, the International Space Station has a mass of 420,000 kg. To date, space technology has tended to become increasingly large and sophisticated, accessible only to the space agencies of the world’s most developed countries or at the service of major corporations.
New Space is based on a philosophy of creating less expensive satellites in shorter periods of time, thanks to the falling costs and miniaturisation of electronic parts. With nanosatellites, the benefits that were traditionally reserved exclusively for large companies or space agencies with vast financial resources have been democratised and are now accessible to companies of all types and sizes.
Nanosatellite Launch Procedure. Once the nanosatellite has been developed, tested and is ready for operations, it must be placed in orbit. There are currently multiple launch options for nanosatellites, including the shared use of government agency rockets, private company launchers or logistic links with the International Space Station (ISS). CubeSats take up reduced amounts of volume and mass, making them easy to load onto spacecraft as well as a low cost solution. Furthermore, the emergence of micro-launchers around the world, dedicated exclusively to placing small satellites in orbit, has forced the market to lower launch prices.
SCubeSats have appeared in the last 15 years and represent a new paradigm in the satellite industry. They are radically smaller than conventional satellites, resulting in lower costs, which offsets the reduced risk of failure and shorter useful life, which is nevertheless acceptable for numerous applications. The special nature of nanosatellites does not prevent them from carrying out the same tasks as larger devices. The features naturally differ, but are sufficient for multiple industrial applications.
- Earth Observation
- Collecting and interpreting data is essential for the correct management of natural resources and developing sustainable economies. Analysing human impact on agriculture, forest, geology and the environment is crucial in order to improve the population’s living conditions..
- Communication and IoT
- Nanosatellites have laid the foundations for developing the Internet of Things (IoT) on a global scale, connecting areas of the world without land communication cover via infrastructures in space. There is a growing number of sensorised objects and networks requiring global connections and communications.
- Geolocation and Logistics
- Locating and handling assets (aircraft, ships, vehicles, etc.) can prove impossible or at best extremely costly in areas where there is no land cover. Located in space and offering a global vision, nanosatellite constellations can provide immediate monitoring of various asset groups anywhere on the planet. Nanosatellites can complement current networks by providing complex logistic management solutions.
- Signal Monitoring (SIGINT)
- Nanosatellites can monitor radio signals transmitted from Earth. This means that in the event of a disaster, they can provide initial information regarding the degree of impact and the most seriously affected areas, allowing for more effective planning of rescue and relief work.
- Scientific Applications
- In addition to commercial solutions, CubeSats can also be used for space observation programmes, interplanetary missions, systems testing in orbit or biomedical research. They also represent a gateway for the development of space programmes in those countries that have not yet joined the space race.
How Many Satellites are there in Space?
Since the first artificial object was placed in orbit around the Earth, back in 1957, humankind has launched thousands of satellites, although there are no reliable or complete records. According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), more than 11,000 objects have been launched into outer space. However, this number does not only include satellites, but also probes, rockets and other devices. Due to the nanosatellite revolution, the number of objects will rise sharply over the coming years as the vast potential of Space Business unfolds.