Students can join the next satellite launch or float outside the Earth’s atmosphere on a balloon as South African students have done, but not physically as a galactic hitchhiker. Small country space agencies, citizen science groups, start-ups, and hobbyists have been doing just that with CubeSats, a kind of satellite. To peek through the lens of a CubeSat, of course.
What are CubeSats?
The objective of creating CubeSats was to make space science more accessible to students in 1999. CubeSats are smaller and more economical than previously prominent satellites that were large and costly. CubeSats are the boxy little cousins of Hubble and Landsat, with a common measuring system based on a 10-cm3 unit. They have been especially influential in increasing people’s interest in space, providing hands-on educational opportunities, and allowing for innovative and adventurous space research.
Widespread Availability and Benefits of CubeSats
The increased availability of CubeSats to non-government and non-commercial organizations has allowed for the proliferation of satellite development and launch. Universities, small country space agencies, citizen science groups, start-ups, and even hobbyists are now among the new users of these kits. The role that CubeSats have played in facilitating access to space exploration has led to a number of scientific advantages including:
Improved Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education:
CubeSats provide students with real-world experience in aerospace engineering as well as a chance to develop professional skills. In addition to being of benefit to students, Dr Mohamed Kayyali, chairman of KSF Space, noted that “this thing we build actually gets sent into space” (Building Blocks for Better Science).
Development of New Satellite Research Methods:
Standard satellites are costly and time-consuming to create. This is why they are typically chosen for low-risk missions. CubeSats can be used for high-risk, exploratory research like NASA’s studies of bacteria genetics in space and deep space exploration because they are inexpensive and quick to develop.
CubeSats allow people from a variety of disciplines to contribute their ideas and skill sets to the design of small satellites. Solutions to challenges in space and on Earth can be faster and more imaginative with more and more diverse participants. Many space organizations have emerged as a result of this innovation, and are now working to further accelerate innovation. A prime example of this is the KSF Space Foundation, which produces CubeSat kits for a variety of small satellite development missions.
Citizen scientists use CubeSats to conduct space experiments of interest, such as those that expand our understanding of Earth. The accessibility of CubeSats gives members of the public more control over the research questions they address. The ability of the public to participate in and shape research agendas can strengthen the bond between science and society.
CubeSats have provided a means for a wide range of individuals to participate in space exploration previously unexplored by them, thanks to their affordable nature. However, the expansion of CubeSats has exposed current difficulties and has consequently spawned new ones.