Scientists have been planning to send up a fleet of tiny satellites up into Earth orbit for a while now. On Tuesday, the execution of the plan has finally started after the International Space Station (ISS) deployed four miniature satellites called "CubeSats" into space.
A CubeSat is a miniaturized satellite designed primarily for space research. Aside from its diminutive size, commercially available components are also used in the construction a CubeSat. Due to the lower costs associated with manufacturing CubeSats, scientists plan on deploying a large number of these little satellites to gather vast amounts of data from space.
On Feb. 11, four CubeSats were launched from the ISS. The four satellites are part of a Planet Labs plan to launch a small fleet of 28 satellites referred to as "Flock 1." The satellites are designed to take high-resolution photos of the Earth, which can be used for a wide variety of purposes.
The Planet Labs CubeSats were launched using the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) designed and built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The J-SSOD was specifically designed for launching CubeSats from the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo on the ISS. The Planet Labs CubeSats were launched from the J-SSOD by taking advantage of the Kibo's airlock and robotic arm functions.
While CubeSats can also be launched using rockets, the J-SSOD has a number of advantages over conventional rocket-based delivery mechanisms. Unlike satellites lunched using rockets, CubeSats launched using the J-SSOD are not exposed to extreme vibrations. This advantage is extremely important for CubeSats that were built using commercially available components that are not designed to withstand the conditions of a rocket launch.
"The latest generation of satellites will enable us to image the whole globe at high frequency, producing an unprecedented data set that will unlock huge commercial, environmental and humanitarian value," said CEO and co-founder of Planet Labs Will Marshall in a post on the Planet Labs blog.
Planet Labs is a space and data analytics company that operates the Flock 1 fleet from its San Francisco headquarters. One of the company's main goals is to provide universal access to information about the planet Earth in general. In previous years, the company has already sent up a number of other satellites into orbit.
The data gathered by the Flock 1 CubeSats can be used for anything from monitoring natural disasters to tracking deforestation around the world.