On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union inaugurated the "Space Age" by sending the first artificial satellite to space called Sputnik. According to History, the name is derived from the Russian word for "space traveler."

Over 60 years later, various sizes and types of satellites are now already in orbit. Scientists have also innovated into making smaller satellites called nanosatellites, which are believed to be the future of satellites to deliver information on Earth's ionosphere.

Nanosatellites are the Future of Satellites: Earth Observation Now Smaller, Cheaper Than Ever
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Three nanosatellites, known as Cubesats, are deployed from a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (SSOD) attached to the Kibo laboratory's robotic arm at 7:10 a.m. (EST) on Nov. 19, 2013.

Nanosatellites vs. Conventional Satellites

According to AZO Nano, nanosatellites are any satellite with a mass between 1 kg to 10kg. Examples of nanosatellites are CubeSats, SunSats, TubeSats, Picosatellites, and PocketQuebes.

One of the advantages of nanosatellites is their size and cost. Since they are smaller than the conventional satellite, they are cheaper to make. A conventional satellite with an average size could cost more than US$575 million, whereas an average nanosatellite can only cost around US$575,000 to launch.

Moreover, conventional satellites have individual designs and custom-built parts. However, nanosatellites have similar set designs and use "off-the-shelf" commercially available parts. They can be reproduced in a shorter time and can be launched from a standardized Nanosatellite Launch Vehicle ((NLV).

Spanish company Alén Space, which designs, constructs, and develops nanosatellites, shared on their website that telecommunications technologies are constantly changing and updating, but it is hard to constantly update large satellites. Unlike large conventional satellites, nanosatellites only take about eight months to develop.

More so, nanosatellite constellations provide a system where obsolescence or useful life is no longer a problem because they can be regularly renewed as the result of ongoing technological updates to ensure an optimum technological service at all times.

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Earth Observation Via Nanosatellites

Satellites have helped scientists conduct Earth observations to assess historical trends on the changes that happened on Earth's surface. According to a paper published online by SATCON1 Scientific Organizing Committee, nanosatellites of various radiometric, spatial, spectral, and temporal resolutions are currently conducting Earth observations.

AZO Nano reported that despite the small size of nanosatellites, their ability to impact the world is not limited. Nanosatellite constellations, like the PlanetScope constellation, provide information for research that requires high-level detail and images to study the land, oceans, vegetation, and inland water.

They make nanosatellites invaluable in monitoring the impacts of climate change on Earth, such as the wildfires, rates of sea ice melting, growth of algal blooms, and losses in food production.

Their high efficiency in monitoring dynamic processes also lets them monitor natural disasters, such as hurricanes, typically done by larger satellites.

In the future, a nanosatellite constellation called SatRevolution will be launched to orbit to collect minute-level Earth observations. A thousand nanosatellites will make up the constellation to provide huge information about the Earth's surface. 

But NASA and ESA warn that filling a low-Earth orbit with technology is also unsustainable as they are helpful. That means space operators should be responsible for the disposal of their nanosatellites after their missions.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tel Aviv University Developed a Shoebox-Sized NanoSat Set For Launch

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