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NASA Space Technology

NASA To Develop Small Satellites 85

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-necessarily-bigger-than-a-breadbox dept.
coondoggie brings news that NASA has announced it will team with Machine-to-Machine Intelligence Corp. to produce small satellites, called 'nanosats,' weighing between 11 and 110 pounds. The satellites will work together in 'constellations' and facilitate networking in space. According to NASA's press release, it will 'develop a fifth generation telecommunications and networking system for Internet protocol-based and related services.' We've discussed miniature satellites in the past.
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NASA To Develop Small Satellites

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  • Great, (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:02PM (#23192106) Homepage Journal
    Just what we need, more ofthis [space.com].

    I guess it would be more difficult to shoot down a self-healing mesh of small satellites(as opposed to shooting down one big one [cnn.net]).
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Tesen (858022)
      I for one, welcome our new R2D2 sized falling space debris overlords! May they fall on your house, scar you for life and give you a reason as to why you are still a virgin and living with your parents when you are 40 years old! On the other hand, I feel bad for your parents - so I withdraw my previous comment. May our new... ah fuck whatever!
      • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:38PM (#23192448) Homepage Journal
        You, sir, are wrong: I might actually get laid if I had my own satellite.

        (woman's voice:)"...oooh, shiny! Ethanol J. Fueled, please take me NOW"!
        • by creimer (824291)
          Except some wanker will come along to get the woman by saying, "My satellite is bigger, shinier and nicer!"
          • by Hes Nikke (237581)

            Except some wanker will come along to get the woman by saying, "My satellite is bigger, shinier and nicer!"
            nah, she just got bored and moved on, but since she had already taken my virginity at that point, it's all good.

            it's the NEXT lay thats the problem....
        • by Captain Nitpick (16515) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @10:56PM (#23193888)

          You, sir, are wrong: I might actually get laid if I had my own satellite.

          I think you'd have better luck if you lost some mass.

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            You, sir, are wrong: I might actually get laid if I had my own satellite.

            I think you'd have better luck if you lost some mass.

            No, he's trying to get some ass. Oh, sorry, you said mass, my bad. :-P

            Cheers
      • ass. I say nano, relatively speaking, might be the size of cat turds, or a hair off the ass.

        Maybe they are trying to cash in on the cache or cachet of Apple Nano? They should just start out with "Sattlets". (Then, they might curry fayvor from the current praysident and get more budget approval from him.)
        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          Won't iSunSpots, and iSolarWinds play havoc with these things?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by necro81 (917438)
          SI prefixes have been applied to satellites [wikipedia.org] for a while now. They are used to differentiate satellites based on weight. Instead of three orders-of-magnitude per prefix (e.g., micro -> nano = 10^-3), they are one order-of-magnitude. In general, the classification has been broken like so:

          minisatellite: 100 - 1000 kg
          micro-: 10 - 100 kg
          nano-: 1 - 10 kg
          pico-: 100 g - 1 kg

          Theoretically, these satellites come down by orders of magnitude in cost, too. An example of a Picosat would be the CubeSat [cubesat.org] p
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by oodaloop (1229816)
      A 110lb satellite is hardly on par with a nut or a pair of gloves. If we can replace aging satellites with much smaller ones, I would think it would greatly improve the neighborhood up there. If, OTOH, they were planning on putting up a thousand tiny ones to do the job of one big one, that's a horse of a different color.

      In any case, my big question is how many nuts are orbiting Uranus?
    • by ISoldat53 (977164)
      Will they be using Live mesh?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If we _doubled_ the number of manmade objects in orbit right now, it'll still only make up about 15% of the stuff up there. What the hell do you care?
    • I think it was really just a matter of time before they switched to a distributed model of satellite communications.

      Its kinda like moving away from centralized mainframe systems of the past to the distributed networks that are used today (i.e. the Internet)

      Its just more efficient and has greater fail safes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sas-dot (873348)
      NASA has to catchup!? Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is launching 10 satellites (including 8 nano) this April 28. [indiatimes.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:20PM (#23192268)
    Amateur radio has been doing this for years. They call them microsats and get cheap flight aboard rockets when they get used as ballast.
  • by justdrew (706141) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:21PM (#23192282)
    thanks god some new company has come around to develop ways for machines to talk to each other. I'm betting it involves 'networking protocols' and 'message' packets being passed around. ground breaking shit here.
  • Mass appeal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by isomeme (177414) <cdberry@gmail.com> on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:23PM (#23192290) Homepage Journal
    weighing between 11 and 110 pounds

    Come on, people. This is a tech site. Can't we please use metric units? This case is especially annoying for two reasons:

    1. When the satellites are deployed, their weight will be zero.

    2. Those odd range limits -- 11 and 110 pounds -- are obviously Imperial conversions of the more reasonable range 5-50 kg.

    We've already crashed one probe into Mars trying to juggle Imperial and metric units. Everyone reading /. knows metric units. Let's go metric-only here. Please.
    • by bill_kress (99356)
      That was close to what struck me--wouldn't Micro-Sattelites or even Mini-Satellites be more appropriate? I mean, nano? What do they call the 1kg satellites of the future? Pico-Satellites? Then they are really screwed when they come out with the ones you measure in grams.. Nobody knows Femto... (Did I even spell it right? My computer doesn't think so.)
      • Re:Mass appeal (Score:5, Informative)

        by GileadGreene (539584) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:49PM (#23192530) Homepage
        Hate to break it to you, but so-called "picosats" [nasa.gov] have already been launched. They are indeed in the 1kg mass range. You're also right that "femtosats" are on the cards. See here [sstl.co.uk] for one of the more popular mass classification schemes. I'm eagerly awaiting the appearance of the first "yocto [wikipedia.org]sat"...
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Hojima (1228978)
        A satellite isn't a unit a unit of measurement, so you don't really have to worry about that. They'll just say, "nanosats getting smaller" as a headline. Also, very very doubtful that satellites get to be in grams. Getting something that light into stable orbit is like trying to throw a penny through a field goal from 30 yards away. That, and getting 1kg objects into space with existing rail guns might be just as easy as getting lighter objects, so it wouldn't make sense.
        • by Urza9814 (883915)
          I could easily build something to throw a penny through a field goal from 30 yards away. And I'm sure in the future we'll be able to put gram-size satellites into orbit.

          Sure, it may be just as easy to launch something bigger, but why bother if something smaller will do? Hell, there may come a point in the future where we aren't even capable of building them that big...unless we just build a big hull and have a bunch of empty space around the computer. Technology is shrinking. It will most likely continue to
          • I could easily build something to throw a penny through a field goal from 30 yards away. And I'm sure in the future we'll be able to put gram-size satellites into orbit.

            Sure, it may be just as easy to launch something bigger, but why bother if something smaller will do? Hell, there may come a point in the future where we aren't even capable of building them that big...unless we just build a big hull and have a bunch of empty space around the computer. Technology is shrinking. It will most likely continue to do so. Besides, a gram size satellite would be much harder to hit with a missile (or another space ship...) than one that's several kilograms.

            Imagine something like a compact disk. A stackable reflective disc with LCD shutters to control reflectivity. Give it a little CPU in the centre with photovoltaic cells to provide power.

            Attitude and trajectory are controlled by opening and closing the shutters. Commands come from the ground by broadcast messages. You could launch thousands of the things on a single vehicle.
            It would make a great way of concentrating sunlight for solar power.

            • by Hojima (1228978)

              Attitude and trajectory are controlled by opening and closing the shutters. Commands come from the ground by broadcast messages. You could launch thousands of the things on a single vehicle. It would make a great way of concentrating sunlight for solar power.

              Remind me again how you can change trajectory with aerodynamics in space? Also, solar power in space requires a concentrated beam so that the energy is not lost as heat to the atmosphere. That and you can get a better surface area from a connected solar panel. Face it, controlling the trajectory of a small object isn't worth the difficulty when bigger would be better anyways. Yea launching smaller is easier, but it makes more sense to have them assemble once they're in orbit.

              • Re:Mass appeal (Score:4, Insightful)

                by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @09:53PM (#23193516) Homepage Journal

                Attitude and trajectory are controlled by opening and closing the shutters. Commands come from the ground by broadcast messages. You could launch thousands of the things on a single vehicle.
                It would make a great way of concentrating sunlight for solar power.
                Remind me again how you can change trajectory with aerodynamics in space?
                You use light pressure. The shutters control the amount of light being reflected from different parts of the vehicle. Light pressure causes the vehicle to rotate. Once a consistent attitude has been established light pressure gives you a velocity change. The whole lot can be done with a few milliwatts of power to control a CPU and sheets of liquid crystal.

                • by Hojima (1228978)

                  You use light pressure.
                  Not a bad idea. I still stick to my opinion that they should self assemble in space though. If many small solar collectors was a good idea, it would be done on earth as well.
                • by dpilot (134227)
                  I hear what you're saying, but the image I get make me think, "Cavorite."

                  I also wonder that the surface area is getting sufficiently small that I would expect light pressure to be scaling downward too, though this is in the direction that square/cube effects are helping us. As an alternative I might suggest deploying fans, black on one side and silver on the other, like a classic radiometer. Then twist each fan blade at the base, to catch the sun with the desired angle. The fans themselves could likely b
        • Getting something that light into stable orbit is like trying to throw a penny through a field goal from 30 yards away.
          Getting small amounts of mass to travel great distances is simple. I believe a divice that can throw a penny at least 30(meters) can be found here [wikipedia.org].
          • by Hojima (1228978)
            I think you completely missed what I was trying to say. Throwing a penny 30 yards is easy as hell. Getting it through the field goal is the tricky part. And that was an analogy using only your hand to get a penny forward for a reason. It's inaccurate. Try using a gun to get something light into stable orbit (if it's small, it will most likely use a rail gun). It will most likely fall or leave the gravitational field rather quickly. In comparison, throwing a baseball through a field goal is a piece of cake.
      • by G4from128k (686170) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:55PM (#23192590)
        Clearly if a nanosat is 5 kg, then 1 sat is a very large unit of mass. On the other hand, given the mass of a typical medium size satellite (call it 500 kg), these are clearly decisats or centisats.

        Like you, I hate the corruption of engineering terminology in the hands of marketing. And that NASA, of all groups, would fall for the "nano" = "really small" meme is egregious. Clearly some people need to hand in their geek badges.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Well, seeing as how the moon is 7.3477 e 22 kg according to wikipedia, and is a satellite, I think they're quite right with the "nano" = "really small"
        • Nano comes from the Greek, meaning dwarf. It means small. It is also used as an SI prefix with a well-defined meaning.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by doctor_nation (924358)
        Yeah, the satellite size ranges are really messed up. Consider that a normal satellite weighs on the order of a metric ton or several tons (1000's of kgs). For some reason, the names only scale as a factor of 10, not 1000, so micro-sats are around 100 kg, nano-sats around 10 kg, and picosats around 1 kg. There are actually femto-sats (if I recall correctly), that are little more than a small circuit board with a few chips on it. Those are 100's of grams. There's also mini-sats somewhere between full sa
    • by Orange Crush (934731) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:38PM (#23192450)
      As a technologically inclined website, I would think we'd be more concerned with the potential latency issues of orbital IP networks . . . what kind of latency should we expect in knuckle-to-eye units?
    • Re:Mass appeal (Score:4, Informative)

      by timmarhy (659436) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:52PM (#23192558)
      " When the satellites are deployed, their weight will be zero."

      epic fail. they still weigh 100 pounds on earth and it's getting INTO space where they will weigh nothing that's the expensive part.

      • Re:Mass appeal (Score:4, Informative)

        by evanbd (210358) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @08:20PM (#23192784)
        And as soon as the launcher starts to move, the weight is no longer all that meaningful. Everyone in the industry uses metric -- though you'll still see rough numbers quoted in Imperial units, mostly for marketing though. Basically any time 1kg = 2 lb and g = 10m/s^2 aren't accurate enough, people use metric. OP is right, /. should be using metric here.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Raptoer (984438)
      They will still weigh quite a bit when in orbit.

      But the force of gravity pulling down will be countered by the force of it spinning around the earth. Astronauts are in free fall, not in 0g.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NemoinSpace (1118137)
      Most engineers are quite capable of dividing by 2-1/4 in their head.
      It's not like this is rocket science we're talking ab ... oh wait.. ummm,
      Take your religious war elsewhere before I pound you with my 16 oz. hammer like a 10 penny nail!
    • Could you be more pretentious? I'm a techie, not a friggin' chemist. Pounds work just fine for me as these units do for the majority of readers. Now, if this site was mostly European, I'd expect metric units.

      And, wise guy, the weight is very important when you're considering the expense of getting one off the ground.

      • by caluml (551744)

        Now, if this site was mostly European, I'd expect metric units.
        Mostly non-American, you mean? I'm English, and still use miles and pints, but for weight, nah, kg is the obvious.
    • their weight remains almost unchanged, it only changes by ~5%
    • by ari_j (90255)

      We've already crashed one probe into Mars trying to juggle Imperial and metric units. Everyone reading /. knows metric units. Let's go metric-only here. Please.

      I'm fairly confident that Slashdot hasn't crashed any probes.

      Also, for a really good time, check out the Wikipedia article on the lunar rover [wikipedia.org], which gives maximum payload weight in both pounds and kilograms. This is the kind of thing I find very humorous.

  • by Strange Ranger (454494) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @07:30PM (#23192362)
    Satellites weighing 110-1000 pounds will be called "Biggie sats" and those at the top of the scale will be called "Venti Sats".
  • I think that the concept is actually a more sensible and economic approach, but I am not sure that unless they use OSS and have an orbiting Unix guru, it will ever work.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      ooooo What I wouldnt give to have the title of

      'Orbiting Unix Guru'
  • HAMs have been doing this for decades, so what's been taking NASA so long?
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Exactly! We've had birds up there since the 60's. Heck, Amsat pioneered small satellites. It's amazing it took them this long to catch on.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      NASA uses satellites for collecting scientific data .. if you want a spinning 5 meter dish (to get good resolution), you're not going to do it on a 5 kg satellite.

      NASA designs and builds for long reliable life. Hams can tolerate a lot more risk in exchange for cheaper parts and less rigor.

      NASA has certain institutional aspects that push for a fairly large "minimum project size" (e.g. the need to report to Congress, be auditable, verify that the taxpayer isn't getting ripped off) Those institutional costs d
  • This could go down in history as the world's largest beowulf cluster . . . EVER! =)
  • "Nano" means one billionth. Can't they use more appropriately-sized prefixes , such as "centi" or "milli"? Who names these things, scientists or marketing wanks?
    • They could just launch a billion of them.
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)
      I'm guessing it was a result of the usage of microsatellites for small satellites between 10 and 100 kg, which was colloquially below normal satellites and miniature satellites (100-500kg). Once you have that usage of micro its straightforward enough to define nano- and pico-sats as being the two orders of magnitude below that. Not strictly SI units, but I doubt the terms are going to change now since they have pretty well defined usages in the satellite community.
    • by Miseph (979059)
      "Who names these things, scientists or marketing wanks?"

      Marketing wanks name them because they sign the paychecks. Life's unfair, cope.
  • The satellites will work together in 'constellations' and facilitate networking in space.
    Skynet is just around the corner. Everyone get out your big guns.

  • Mars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @08:05PM (#23192672) Journal
    Mars needs a communication network that will also handle GPS. Since there is little atmosphere, and atomic clock is now chip size, I have been thinking that it would be useful to see the same thing employed around the moon, and then deployed later to mars. Ideally, each sat will have enough size and power left over to handle an extra device, so that each sat or a group of sats might have something unique.
  • Nanosats aren't new (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I'm launching one in June: http://cusat.cornell.edu/
  • That's how I misread the headline and suddenly had visions of Professor Farnsworth and the smell-o-scope...
  • It's about time that NASA started building anything that doesn't cost $100,000,000,000. This is good for a couple of reasons:
    • - The public may not continue to see NASA as a boondoggle when one of those giant investments goes up in a ball of flames
    • - Some of these more conservative projects may lend themselves to being adapted more readily by the private sector
    • - Cheaper projects mean more projects. More projects = more experimentation and maybe even faster research

    Bring on the tiny satellites!

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @11:14PM (#23193994)
    Just what we need, clouds of more objects in LEO. WATCH OUT! Here comes another one!
  • Indian space agency ISRO is launching a record 10 satellites through a single rocket today.
    Apart from Cartosat-2 (690 kg), all other 9 are 'nano' satellites from India, Canada and Germany.
    Detailed article here-
    http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gTY3Q6PejpjZOsEbIKmCYuRhjK_g [google.com]

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