Smaller, multiple satellite missions are economical and provide redundancy. Instead of launching one big, heavy satellite, launching lots of little is easier. They can orbit Earth in tandem, each doing their own small part of the overall mission. If a solar flare zaps one satellite—no problem. The rest can close ranks and carry on. Launch costs are reduced, too, because tiny satellites can hitch a ride inside larger payloads, getting to space almost free of charge.The idea sounds great, but I can't help but want to see numbers painted all over these things. [Universe Today via io9]
It's too bad Gary Gygax is no longer with us, because it would be interesting to get his opinion on SPHERES (for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites). These prototype devices are currently floating around aboard the ISS as part of an experiment developed by MIT students. The goal is to test flight formations that could one day lead to autonomous maintenance satellites capable of building large spacecraft while in orbit.