When space shuttle Endeavour blasted off Monday morning it carried three tiny satellites — each the size of a postage stamp — along with it.
Endeavour, NASA’s next-to-last shuttle mission, left its Florida launch pad at 5:56 a.m. Pacific Time with the slim, 1-inch-square chips aboard. The mini-satellites are set to be mounted on the outside of the International Space Station and will collect data measuring the harsh conditions of space.
Mason Peck, the professor who led the project to build the satellites at Cornell University, said the spacecraft, dubbed Sprite, are prototypes. The mini-satellites will remain in space for a “few years,” before they’re to be removed and brought back to Earth.
In the future, Peck envisions launching waves of the little satellites simultaneously to capture information about space in real-time.
“Their small size allows them to travel like space dust,” he said in a statement. “Blown by solar winds, they can ‘sail’ to distant locations without fuel.”
Currently the cost of building, maintaining and launching full-size satellites is in the millions of dollars. These small, light spacecraft could bring costs down, Peck said.
“We’re actually trying to create a new capability and build it from the ground up,” Peck said. “We want to learn what’s the bare minimum we can design for communication from space.”