November will see the release of the first of the six next-generation CubeSats NASA will be launching as part of its Earth-observing missions.
Developed with the aim of demonstrating new approaches to study the changing planet, the small satellites will range in size, going from as small as a loaf of bread to about the size of a small washing machine. The differences in size also mean differences in weight, with the heaviest reaching 400 pounds.
Advantages Of CubeSats
Because they are small, CubeSats help keep launch and development costs down. For starters, they can hitch rides on rockets made for other missions as secondary payloads.
The small satellites also let NASA test out new ideas in space technologies while broadening the involvement of researchers and students in various projects of the space agency, according to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
As they are cheaper and easier to build, CubeSats allow for more risks to be taken, opening up more chances for discovery and improvement.
"These small satellites are changing the way we think about making instruments and measurements. The cube has inspired us to think more outside the box," said Pamela Millar, flight validation lead for NASA's Earth Science Technology Office.
CubeSat Launch Schedule
NASA will be launching the Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes, or RAVAN, this November. The CubeSat's goal is to test new technology designed to detect slight changes in the energy budget of the planet at the top of the atmosphere, which will aid in better understanding how greenhouse gas emissions affect the climate.
Early in 2017, the Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration or MiRaTA CubeSat will be following suit. It will be launched into space alongside the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Though just as big as a shoe box, MiRaTA will be packing together a lot of the capabilities that large weather satellites boast of.
Come spring 2017, it will be the IceCube and Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter or HARP CubeSats' turn for a launch. IceCube is a high-frequency microwave radiometer for measuring cloud ice while HARP is made for measuring airborne particles and cloud droplet size distribution.
Thanks to CubeSats, NASA was able to come up with two science missions, one of which will be launching in December. Called Cyclone, Global Navigation Satellite System, it will be the space agency's first Earth science satellite constellation, fitted with eight identical satellites flying in formation to take measurements of wind intensity over oceans to better understand tropical cyclones.