It g fees a lot of funds to get a satellite into orbit aboard a rocket—around $50 million minimum, to be additional particular. Although this massively restricts who can access the space sector, it is not all poor. According to NASA, there are about 27,000 hunks of space junk orbiting higher above humans’ heads at the moment, with an typical of 25 years just before they fall from orbit and burn away upon atmospheric reentry.
Nonetheless, lowering fees when also shortening satellite lifespans is significant if space exploration and utilization is to stay protected and viable. As luck would have it, a group of students and researchers at Brown University just created promising headway for each concerns.
[Related: How harpoons, magnets, and ion blasts could help us clean up space junk.]
Final year, the group effectively launched their breadloaf-sized cube satellite (or cubesat) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the comparatively low production price of $ten,000, with a substantially shortened lifespan estimated at just 5 years. What’s additional, substantially of the microsat was constructed utilizing accessible, off-the-shelf elements, such as a preferred $20 microprocessor powered by 48 AA batteries. In total, SBUDNIC—a play on Sputnik as effectively as an acronym of the students’ names—is probably the initial of its type to be created just about completely from components not particularly developed for space travel.
Moreover, the group attached a 3D-printed drag sail created from Kapton film that unfurled as soon as the cubesat reached orbit roughly 520 kilometers above Earth. Because tracking started in late Might 2022, the students’ satellite has currently lowered down to 470 kilometers—well beneath its fellow rocketmates aboard the Falcon 9, which stay about 500 kilometers higher.
[Related: These 3D printed engines can power space-bound rockets—or hypersonic weapons.]
“The theory and physics of how this functions has been quite effectively accepted,” explained Rick Fleeter, an adjunct associate professor of engineering at Brown, in a statement. “What this mission showed was additional about how you recognize it—how you construct a mechanism that does that, and how you do it so it is lightweight, little and inexpensive.”
With SBUDNIC’s resounding good results, researchers hope implementing comparable drag-sail styles at scale for future satellites could support drastically minimize their lifespans, as a result decreasing space clutter to make sure a safer atmosphere for fellow orbiters, each human and artificial. And if $ten,000 is nonetheless a bit out of your cost range—give the group some time. “Here, we’re opening up that possibility to additional people…We’re not breaking down all the barriers, but you have to get started someplace,” mentioned Fleeter.