Today we are experiencing an explosion of new startup companies that are getting involved in space exploration. New technologies and cost reductions in existing technologies mean that creative, fledgling businesses can now participate.
Witness the experience of space startup Quberider, a company created by Solange Cunin, an aerospace engineering student at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and her partner, Sebastian Chaoui, a student at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.
The goal of the company, explained Cunin, is to assist more people to gain access to space. That goal is based on the use of cubesats, also known as nanosatellites.
These satellites are quite small – 10cm x 10cm x 10cm (a 4-inch cube) and weigh only 1.3kg (2.9-pounds) or less. They feature the same high-technology components that one would find in a smartphone –- an accelerometer, which measures how fast the craft is moving; a magnetometer, which serves as a compass; a GPS receiver, to gather satellite data; multiple radios; a gyroscope, which measures position; a barometer, which detects pressure; cameras; and more. The cubesat will also feature a Raspberry Pi electronics board so a computer program can be created and uploaded to control the craft’s operation in space.
Because of the easy availability of the components and the size of the satellite, it costs more than $200,000 to buy one. Meanwhile, the cost to acquire a full size satellite can be from $200 million to $1 billion.
Cunin points out that space can be shared on a cubesat, which carries several small payloads. That capability helps to reduce the cost by about 75 percent to $50,000.
According to Cunin, the satellite will provide a blank canvas on which the company or companies that purchase it can create their own specific mission.
Quberider will plan the launch logistics. However, a company in the United States or India, which specializes in the manufacturing of the launch vehicle and the launch, will get the satellite into space. Many companies that provide the rocket and perform the launch permit companies to share space on the launch vehicle and share the cost of the launch.
The construction of the cubesats will take place in Australia. Cunin notes that Australia has not launched commercial satellites since the 1980s. So the cubesats from Quberider will be the first commercial satellites to come from Australia.
A cubesat is designed to stay in orbit for about six months and a ground station in Australia will send and receive the data.
Quberider plans to launch its first cubesat in late 2016.
Read more about CubeSats here.