Bread-Loaf Size Satellites to Probe Atmosphere, Deep Space

"Watershed" moment seen for little low-cost CubeSats.

Developed at California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University beginning in 1999, the satellites typically use off-the-shelf components and are built to uniform sizes, the smallest being a four-inch (ten-centimeter) cube. The cubes can be linked to fit more instruments into a single satellite.

Stacked in bulk in a special container, CubeSats hitchhike as secondary cargo on launch vehicles—adding to their considerable economic advantage over conventional satellites, which can run $50 to $100 million at the low end.

At the same time, computer chips are getting smaller, allowing researchers to fit more and more into these Rubik's Cube-size boxes.

It all adds up to increasing popularity for the tiny satellites, as evidenced by the growing industry around them. Aerospace companies,

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