It g charges a lot of funds to get a satellite into orbit aboard a rocket—around $50 million minimum, to be far extra precise. While this massively restricts who can access the space marketplace, it is not all undesirable. According to NASA, there are about 27,000 hunks of space junk orbiting greater above humans’ heads at the moment, with an standard of 25 years prior to they fall from orbit and burn away upon atmospheric reentry.
Nonetheless, lowering charges even though also shortening satellite lifespans is essential if space exploration and utilization is to remain protected and viable. As luck would have it, a group of students and researchers at Brown University just produced promising headway for every troubles.
[Related: How harpoons, magnets, and ion blasts could help us clean up space junk.]
Final year, the group properly launched their breadloaf-sized cube satellite (or cubesat) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the comparatively low production expense of $ten,000, with a substantially shortened lifespan estimated at just five years. What’s far extra, a wonderful deal of the microsat was constructed functioning with accessible, off-the-shelf components, such as a nicely-liked $20 microprocessor powered by 48 AA batteries. In total, SBUDNIC—a play on Sputnik as properly as an acronym of the students’ names—is most likely the incredibly 1st of its sort to be produced fairly a lot completely from elements not especially created for space travel.
Additionally, the group attached a 3D-printed drag sail produced from Kapton film that unfurled when the cubesat reached orbit roughly 520 kilometers above Earth. Since tracking began in late Could 2022, the students’ satellite has at the moment lowered down to 470 kilometers—well beneath its fellow rocketmates aboard the Falcon 9, which remain about 500 kilometers greater.
[Related: These 3D printed engines can power space-bound rockets—or hypersonic weapons.]
“The theory and physics of how this performs has been pretty properly accepted,” explained Rick Fleeter, an adjunct associate professor of engineering at Brown, in a statement. “What this mission showed was far extra about how you realize it—how you create a mechanism that does that, and how you do it so it is lightweight, tiny and reasonably priced.”
With SBUDNIC’s resounding accomplishment, researchers hope implementing comparable drag-sail designs at scale for future satellites could allow drastically reduce their lifespans, for that reason decreasing space clutter to make certain a safer atmosphere for fellow orbiters, every human and artificial. And if $ten,000 is nonetheless a bit out of your expense range—give the group some time. “Here, we’re opening up that possibility to far extra people…We’re not breaking down all the barriers, but you have to commence someplace,” pointed out Fleeter.
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