NASA to launch groups of small satellites for science missions

WASHINGTON, D.C. NASA has announced that it will launch a suite of six small-satellite missions, beginning sometime in November 2016 and continuing into spring 2017, aimed at demonstrating new technologies while studying the Earth's climate and energy budget.

The range in size from a loaf of bread to a small washing machine and weigh from just a few pounds to nearly 400 pounds. Their small size helps to control development and launch costs; moreover, the satellites can often hitch a ride to as a “secondary payload” on another mission’s rocket, which provides an economical way for NASA to test new approaches and conduct experiments. The initial launch is scheduled to be the RAVAN [Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes], which is a CubeSat that will demonstrate new technology for detecting slight changes in the planet's energy budget at the top of the atmosphere, an essential measurements for understanding greenhouse-gas effects on climate. The RAVAN project is led by Bill Swartz at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Image courtesy The Johns Hopkins University

The small-satellite missions are funded and managed by NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), which supports technologists at NASA centers, industry, and academia to develop and refine new methods for observing Earth from space, from information systems to new components and instruments. "The affordability and rapid build times of these CubeSat projects allow for more risk to be taken, and the more risk we take now the more capable and reliable the instruments will be in the future," says Pamela Millar, ESTO flight validation lead. “These small satellites are changing the way we think about making instruments and measurements. The cube has inspired us to think more outside the box."

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