Smaller rockets for smaller satellites.
NASA is asking commercial launch providers to develop new systems specifically for “cubesats.” These days, such bantam craft must generally piggyback aboard big rockets carrying much larger and more expensive satellites as their primary payloads.
Cubesats are extremely small satellites but have a defined shape, allowing them to be almost mass produced. Until now, getting cubesats into space meant they had to tag along with other launches, filling the empty space that was available.
That limits the orbits a cubesat could get to, as well as possibly delaying its launch to find the right empty space.
But their common structure makes them very cheap to get to orbit – perhaps $10,000 or less for total launch costs.
Thus we will see the launch of a cubesat by the Planetary Society to test the use of solar sails for propulsion.
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