A Groundbreaking Mini-Satellite Project May Be Doomed

www.theAtlantic.com  MAY 5 2014, 1:19 PM ET

A fleet of 104 quarter-sized satellites hit a deployment snag in space.

A visualization of tiny satellites deployed by a larger satellite. (YouTube)
A visualization of tiny satellites deployed by a larger satellite. (YouTube)

The plan was to launch a cloud of tiny satellites into space, each one no bigger than a quarter, and scatter them like spare change in the orbital dusk.

But two weeks after a successful launch, there are concerns that the larger satellite carrying all those tiny ones—known as sprites—will burn up before the sprites are deployed.

The satellites were designed by scientists at Cornell who want to replicate the success of Sputnik, the beach-ball-sized Soviet satellite that launched in 1957 and officially set off the space race. These sprites are each less than one ten-millionthSputnik’s size, but with all the functionality of the original.

“Our design packages the traditional spacecraft systems (power, propulsion, communications, etc) onto a single silicon microchip smaller than a dime and unconstrained by onboard fuel,” scientists said in a description of the project.

Now, those scientists are waiting—along with 315 backers who contributednearly $75,000 on Kickstarter to support the project—to see if a technological snafu can be corrected before all of the satellites burn up in the atmosphere.

The sprites were set to be deployed from a larger satellite, known as KickSat, on May 4. Here’s a video that shows how KickSat is designed to disperse sprites across space:   click to read more