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NASA Space Science

Cracker-Size Satellites To Launch With Endeavour 70

Obfiscator writes with news of the upcoming deployment of satellite-on-a-chip devices measuring just 3.8cm x 3.8cm x 0.2cm. The satellites are set to launch with Endeavour on its final flight. "These three miniature satellites are being launched as a proof-of-concept. As such, they're being deployed in very low orbit, and should return to earth fairly quickly in order to avoid becoming dangers for other satellites. 'They each contain seven solar cells, a microprocessor, an antenna and amplifier, power storage in capacitors, and switching circuitry to turn on the microprocessor when the stored energy is enough to create a single radio-frequency emission.' Due to their size, atmospheric drag would slow them down without burning them up, allowing them to study the uppermost atmosphere of wherever they are deployed next: Venus, Titan, Europe, and Jupiter are all possibilities."
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Cracker-Size Satellites To Launch With Endeavour

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  • by Max Hyre ( 1974 ) * <mh-slash@hyre.n3.14159et minus pi> on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @12:03AM (#36007262)

    Can't they sample the atmosphere over Europe with meteorology balloons?

  • Do they expect Europe to have a different atmosphere than the rest of the world?

  • by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @12:13AM (#36007284)
    Except Europe. Attempt no landing there.
  • At least they didn't use a white guy as their stock art...
  • Because, you know, the surface of a Triscuit would be pretty much perfect for a solar cell? Uh-oh... is Sladhdot gonna receive a takedown notice now because I called 'em that?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When reached at his home earlier this afternoon, Chris Rock declined to comment.

  • These things will cool down quickly up there. What's in their design that they can keep operating?


    • They will cool down when not exposed to light but that will be for 45 minutes at a time at the most.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How big is a cracker? Kinda pasty white colored tall thing...about 165lbs?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's "European-American-Size", you insensitive clod!

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @02:08AM (#36007624) Journal

    Here's my story submission which according to slashdot logs I submitted on Thursday, April 28@1:25am. I assume this was just an oversight on the part of the editors, no problem, I just wanted to bring up the larger (smaller?) issues regarding having spacecraft design directly coupled to the exponentially increasing (decreasing?) semiconductor fabrication industry which has been in progress now for over half a century.

    "Here's a way to harness Moore's law (which has given us many orders of magnitudes of improvement) to spaceflight (which is still using technology more or less developed in the middle of the 20th century). Some researchers at Cornell will be launching their "Chip" sats, tiny 1" square satellites affixed(?) to the Endeavour space shuttle. "Their small size allows them to travel like space dust," said Peck. "Blown by solar winds, they can 'sail' to distant locations without fuel. ..." Hopefully they "may travel to Saturn within the next decade, and as they flutter down through its atmosphere, they will collect data about chemistry, radiation and particle impacts."

    While I really believe this is the future, I do have some questions. Although much can be miniaturized (nano-rized?), I'm wondering about some things such as optics (for cameras) and antenna/power (for transmitting the results back home). So while these may very well flutter down Saturn's atmosphere, there may need to be a large(r) mothership capable of transmitting the results home. (This was the mechanism used by Greg Bear in his novel "Queen of Angels" where his interstellar ship dropped "coin" sized probes to explore the worlds of Alpha Centauri.)

    With the retirement of Endeavour we have the end of one technology coinciding with the birth of another."

  • If we are the point where a space probe (albeit a limited one) can be fit onto a single chip, why are we still bothering with expensive and fragile humans in outer space?

    • Practice. If we can find better ways to get a few people into space we increase our chances of figuring out how to do it on a larger scale.
    • why are we still bothering with expensive and fragile humans in outer space?

      Because Meat in Space is actually interesting?

      Then again, probably the only way to get modern people interested in any kind of space exploration is if those tiny satellites tweeted their informaation. Then it would be cool.

  • There are three of them, this time. However, they are talking about 10,000/tonne. What happens when that swarm get to low Earth orbit? Some will inevitably persist; it would only take a nudge at launch and they'll remain near the ISS. Who gets to plot all of them; and, who gets to authorise a launch through the swarm or its remnants? Hearing three is only the beginning; try tracking 10,000.

  • This merely underscores the importance of completing development of a replacement platform for the Space Shuttle, to meet the clearly growing need for orbital clam chowder.

  • ...getting strangely aroused by this thought of miniature sattelites of something-point-something cm length being launched anywhere...?

  • I would think that the usefulness of this paradigm decreases greatly at great distances from the Sun. The linked article states that for the chips here on Earth it is already a challenge to receive and identify the radio "chirps". Considering that the inverse-square law would decrease both the strength of the transmitted signal, and at the same time decrease the energy which can be collected by the chip's solar cells, this doesn't seem to be a good fit for distant missions like Jupiter, Titan, or Europa. Mi

    • i'm guessing that for an interplanetary mission, these things will be transported in a larger probe, and once the "mothership" is in orbit, it will deploy these chipsats into the target orbit/atmosphere, the mothership can act as the radio relay, aggregating usefull data from the chipsats and sending it back home.

      It doesnt solve the solar energy problem for missions beyond mars, but i suspect RTGs could solve that instead. According to wikipedia miniaturized RTGs have even been used in pacemakers, so design

    • You could be right, they should perform some sort of proof of concept before they send them anywhere I reckon.
  • When I read "cracker-sized", I thought of petroleum crackers [] and was very impressed by the sudden audacity.
    • Okay...

      Cracker (n):
      1. A small crisp biscuit
      2. A white person from the South-Eastern US
      3. A fractional distillation unit or similar apparatus
      4. A person who breaches security systems
      5. A Christmas party favour popular in the UK
      6. Anything else?

  • I think they mean "Crakcer-assed cracker sized" satellites.
  • Here is a link that shows the actual PCBs rather than, say, a cracker... []
    • Thank you. First thought when viewing the article: "Uhh, thanks, I already know what a cracker looks like."
  • Three 250 pound 5' 11" satellites.. Those things are huge!

    Wait, is there a different definition of cracker?

  • "Due to their size, atmospheric drag would slow them down..." No. Because their shape creates drag.
  • Seems to me that you could put these little "cracker-sats" into orbit with a heavy-duty slingshot. Talk about a green revolution!

  • Sweet, every launch with even a few excess pounds of lift-capacity can acquire hundreds of little eye's in the sky. That actually would be a good idea for acquireing payment for every ounce of launch capacity you have.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"