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Crazy Engineering: CubeSats
Hugh Bollinger

Crazy Engineering: CubeSats

CubeSat Design (credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

A new satellite is being developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at California. Called CubeSats, these breadbox-sized, remote-sensing robots will each have a single, dedicated, environmental monitoring or planetary objective. While small, CubeSats can be built using off-the-shelf parts from a hardware story, they will carry high performance credentials. According to Lab, the solar-powered sats are even more technically capable than earlier generations of far-larger Earth monitoring craft. They are just miniaturized to perform one task.

Many of the JPL's planetary missions have one thing in common: tight weight, volume, and power use requirements. The super-creative, 'out-of-the-box' engineers have built a variety of new sensors and instruments enabling individual CubeSat to carry:infrared spectrometers, micro-GPS, compact radiometers, short wavelength radar scanners, cameras, magnetometers, and other high-tech gear. With each of these micro-satellites, a specific environmental, physical, or chemical measurement can be made. One of the first demonstrations was launched aboard NASA's InSight mission to study the interior makeup of Mars. InSight's larger 'mother ship' carried two twin CubeSats called MARCO (Mars Cube-sat One). MARCO provided the ability to rapidly transmit information from InSight lander back to Earth. Mike Meacham, a JPL engineer, explains the design in an episode of his series, Crazy Engineering, to explain these powerful little satellites and their potential.

Such creativity is not so 'crazy' when you consider the valuable data that will be beamed back in real-time. The new technology will find major uses here on Earth as well as on Mars. WHB

                        CubeSat design (credit: JPL)

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