CubeSats Current Affairs - 2019
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Elon Musk-led SpaceX has successfully launched 64 small satellites into low Earth orbit onboard of its reusable and preflown Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This has set new record in United States of launching satellites in single go. It was third voyage of Falcon 9 rocket, marking another milestone in SpaceX’s cost-cutting reusable rocket technology.
The 64 small satellites included 49 CubeSats and 15 micro-satellites belonging to 34 different clients including public, private and university sources from 17 different countries across the world including South Korea, France and Kazakhstan. The microsatellites weighed few dozen kilograms and CubeSats weighed even smaller. Among launched satellites, one was sculpture called “Orbital Reflector” by artist Trevor Paglen, sent by Nevada Museum of Art and it was not scientific missions.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) holds record for the most satellite launch in single flight. It had launched 104 satellites in one go using Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C37) rocket.
It is private US space agency. It was founded by Elon Musk on May 6, 2002 who is its current CEO of Space X. Its main purpose for its establishment was to reduce cost of space transport and establish human habitation on Mars house. Space X has developed series of Falcon Rockets. To reduce cost of internal transport, the space company has created re-usable rockets. Majority of these rockets are also used in other launches.
Engineers from Purdue University in US have designed and tested a micropropulsion system called a Film-Evaporation MEMS Tunable Array (FEMTA) thruster that uses liquid water as the propellant for orbital maneuvering of tiny satellites called CubeSats.
CubeSats are basically miniature satellites which typically weigh around two kilograms. In the future, they have potential to carry out tasks like imaging and remote-sensing currently performed by heavier satellites which are expensive to build and launch. CubeSats at present cannot totally replace their larger counterparts as they are incapable of changing orbit or performing complex manoeuvres as they donot have a propulsion system. If CubeSats would be having system would allow such tiny satellites to correct their orbit or maintain their altitude, thereby prolonging their operating life in space before becoming space debris.
Film-Evaporation MEMS Tunable Array (FEMTA)
The FEMTA system uses an innovative design of small thrusters that deliver bursts of water vapor to manoeuvre the spacecraft into different orbits. It uses pure water as the propellant since it is safe, green, easy to use and free from the risk of contaminating sensitive instruments by the backflow from plumes as in the case of thrusters using chemical propellants.
It uses capillaries thinner than human hair through which the propellant water can flow. Small heaters located near the ends of the capillaries turn the water into vapor, which, on escaping provides the thrust. The minuscule capillaries act like valves that can be turned on and off by activating the heaters. It is compact and not power hungry. The technology is said to be similar to the inkjet printer, which uses heaters that fire dots of ink of ink at the paper.