It g expenses a lot of funds to get a satellite into orbit aboard a rocket—around $50 million minimum, to be much more distinct. Though this massively restricts who can access the space business, it is not all poor. According to NASA, there are roughly 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.
Nevertheless, lowering expenses whilst also shortening satellite lifespans is vital 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 produced promising headway for each challenges.
[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 expense of $ten,000, with a substantially shortened lifespan estimated at just 5 years. What’s much more, a great deal of the microsat was constructed making use of accessible, off-the-shelf elements, such as a well-known $20 microprocessor powered by 48 AA batteries. In total, SBUDNIC—a play on Sputnik as effectively as an acronym of the students’ names—is most likely the 1st of its sort to be produced pretty much completely from components not particularly developed for space travel.
In addition, the group attached a 3D-printed drag sail produced from Kapton film that unfurled when the cubesat reached orbit roughly 520 kilometers above Earth. Considering the fact that tracking started in late May well 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 operates has been fairly effectively accepted,” explained Rick Fleeter, an adjunct associate professor of engineering at Brown, in a statement. “What this mission showed was much more about how you recognize it—how you make a mechanism that does that, and how you do it so it is lightweight, smaller and inexpensive.”
With SBUDNIC’s resounding results, researchers hope implementing related drag-sail styles at scale for future satellites could support drastically lessen their lifespans, as a result minimizing 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 value range—give the group some time. “Here, we’re opening up that possibility to much more people…We’re not breaking down all the barriers, but you have to get started someplace,” mentioned Fleeter.