Skip to Content

Small Satellites

At a consistent $12,000 to $22,000 per kilogram, it’s not getting any cheaper to send satellites into space, so researchers are trying to figure out how to make them lighter. One extreme solution: hockey-puck-sized satellites. At defense research center Aerospace in El Segundo, CA, engineers are creating early prototypes in which propellant tanks, thruster nozzles, and other key components are laser-carved from a special type of glass. Other necessities such as metal valves, tiny microelectromechanical gyroscopes, guidance electronics, cameras, and other sensors are bonded to the structure. Led by aerospace scientists Siegfried Janson and Henry Halvajian, the team is testing the devices’ maneuverability on a platform similar to an air-hockey table; if the tests go well, the small satellites could ride into space on the sides of other, larger satellites within four years. Once in space, they would be deployed as needed to send back pictures of their host satellites’ condition. Eventually, Janson says, fleets of these satellites could replace some of today’s hefty sensing and communications satellites.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.