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CubeSats Offer Big Science in a Small Box

Illustration for article titled CubeSats Offer Big Science in a Small Box

Miniature cube satellites allow for contained research projects on a tight budget. More and more science is being done with these tiny cubes, with 24 projects currently in-orbit and another 76 pre-approved on a waiting list awaiting launch.


A pair of CubeSats ejected from the International Space Station in February 2014. Credit: NASA

The satellites can be built for under $100,000 if they're assembled by student-labour, and while demand doubled launch costs between 2003 and 2013, hitching a ride to orbit is still a relatively reasonable at $80,000 per cube. While the smallest satellites can only do a call-response ping, the standard-sized cubes are capable of projects as complex as identifying terrestrial gamma ray events.


Read more about the rapidly-shrinking technology on Nature News.

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When one of these mini-sats has done its job, what happens to it? Is it recovered? Is it put on an orbital trajectory that will eventually have it burn up in atmo-entry? Or does it end up contributing to the space junk problem?