News & Opinion | June 24, 2018 5:00 am

NASA Wants to Do More Science With Small Satellites

They're cheaper, faster to develop and easier to update than their bigger counterparts.

satellites
The Van Allen Probes (NASA)

Small satellite makers claim that they can do a lot of things, like change the way we communicate and see our planet, even change the way we predict the weather. The small satellites are cheaper, faster to develop and easier to update than the bigger and more sophisticated satellites. A new NASA program called Astrophysics Science SmallSat Studies hopes to start using small satellites to do more work in space. Earlier this year, NASA asked scientists how they would turn smallsats into tiny but mighty telescopes. Those answers are due July 13. NASA emphasized that the new smallsat program is “intended to capitalize on the creativity in the astrophysics science community,” reports Wired. There will be six to 10 winners and they will together get a total of $1 million and six months to design a smallsat that could get astrophysical.

The agency is aiming for an 85 percent success rate, because these small satellites will be able to carry technology that might make it into premier missions, test experimental new circuitry and sensors and software. If they work, engineers can bring them on fancier missions. If they fail, there is always another idea.