How Small Satellites Are Providing Low-Cost Access to Space

Commercial interests and educational institutions among those launching the tiny payloads

4 min read
An engineer at the Jet Propolsion Lab uses sunlight to test the solar arrays on one of the Mars Cube One spacecraft .
An engineer at the Jet Propolsion Lab uses sunlight to test the solar arrays on one of the Mars Cube One spacecraft .
Photo: JPL-Caltech/NASA

THE INSTITUTE Miniature satellites are driving a new wave of innovation in space systems and are generating excitement similar to that of the earliest days of space exploration. The global small satellite market is expected to grow to more than US $7.5 billion by 2022, according to Market Watch.

The tiny satellites are taking on increasingly complex missions. In May the Jet Propulsion Lab–Caltech Mars Cube One mission sent two CubeSats to fly alongside NASA’s InSight lander on its way to Mars. The pair, the first microsatellites to support a deep space mission, are designed to relay data back to Earth this month when InSight reaches its destination.

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Practical Power Beaming Gets Real

A century later, Nikola Tesla’s dream comes true

8 min read
This nighttime outdoor image, with city lights in the background, shows a narrow beam of light shining on a circular receiver that is positioned on the top of a pole.

A power-beaming system developed by PowerLight Technologies conveyed hundreds of watts of power during a 2019 demonstration at the Port of Seattle.

PowerLight Technologies
Yellow

Wires have a lot going for them when it comes to moving electric power around, but they have their drawbacks too. Who, after all, hasn’t tired of having to plug in and unplug their phone and other rechargeable gizmos? It’s a nuisance.

Wires also challenge electric utilities: These companies must take pains to boost the voltage they apply to their transmission cables to very high values to avoid dissipating most of the power along the way. And when it comes to powering public transportation, including electric trains and trams, wires need to be used in tandem with rolling or sliding contacts, which are troublesome to maintain, can spark, and in some settings will generate problematic contaminants.

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