Small Satellites: Past, Present, and Future

Henry Helvajian and Siegfried W. Janson, editors
876 p., 4-color illus.
ISBN 978-1-884989-22-3

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Small Satellites: Past, Present, and Future is the first book to describe the state of the art of microsats, nanosats, picosats, and CubeSats—and the possible missions they can perform.

Over the last 50 years, more than 860 microsatellites (10–100 kg), 680 nanosatellites (1–10 kg), and 38 picosatellites (0.1–1 kg) have been launched worldwide. Small satellites have recorded data on the terrestrial and space environment near the moon and Earth, helped in the search for planets on other star systems, and demonstrated various telecommunications systems that we enjoy today. These satellites have served as test beds for the development of new space technologies, and as hands-on educational tools for countless students, scientists, and engineers.

Small satellites serve as low-mass platforms that can be sent into orbit for well under a few million dollars, allowing nonspacefaring nations, corporations, educational institutions, and even individuals low-cost access to space. A nanosatellite or picosatellite can be developed by any nation and launched as a secondary payload on a wide range of launch vehicles. As individual spacecraft, micro-, nano-, and picosatellites are limited by power and aperture constraints; however, some space missions could be better served by mass-produced small satellites in large constellations or local clusters. Constellations or clusters with a hundred or more spacecraft will typically require microsatellites or smaller spacecraft to keep total mission cost practical.

The proliferation of small satellites will increase our understanding of the near-Earth environment and provide a nearly real-time assessment of that changing environment. For space exploration, small satellites can provide an efficient and economical means to identify regions of interest before sending larger space systems with more instrumentation. In the far term, mass production of small satellites could provide autonomous space assembly of large systems comprised of thousands of “smart” nano- and picosatellite “Lego” blocks.

This book records seminal ideas, concepts, experiments, and space-test results relevant for small satellites. It is an international compendium of information by leading experts in the field and is intended to be a technical journal that presents interesting engineering aspects in the development of small satellites and small satellite missions, including space policy and alternative modes of space systems development. Space technologists, policy experts, governments, and universities will get a fresh view of the potentially revolutionary capabilities of this emerging field.

Read the first chapter