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A View from Brittany Sauser

NASA Launches Nanosatellite to Study Life in Space

The tiny propellant-free satellite will conduct astrobiology research.

  • November 21, 2010
The nanosatellite called O/OREOS being worked on. Credit: NASA
On Friday, a small, 5.5 kilogram satellite was launched into low earth orbit aboard a United States Air Force rocket. Its mission is to study the origins, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe.
The “nanosatellite”, called Organism/Organic Exposure to Orbital Stresses (O/OREOS), was developed by NASA and is the first small spacecraft to carry two independent science experiments. It is also the first scientific satellite to be propellant-less.

Here’s a video of the launch of O/OREOS:

“With O/OREOS we can analyse the stability of organics in the local space environment in real-time and test flight hardware that can be used for future payloads to address fundamental astrobiology objectives,” said Pascale Ehrenfreund, O/OREOS project scientist at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, in a NASA press release.

Researchers will be able to make contact with the nanosatellite 12.5 hours after it reaches low Earth orbit. It’s mission will last 6 months. During that time the satellite will conduct experiments autonomously and will receive commands from a ground station in California to which it will relay data daily.

O/OREOS will be conducting two experiments. One will characterize the growth, activity of health of microorganisms in a space environment, which includes exposure to radiation and weightlessness. A second experiment will monitor the stability and changes in different organic molecules as they are exposed to these space conditions.

The new nanosatellite adds to NASA’s collection of loaf-of-bread-sized spacecraft. Last year the agency launched PharmSat to test antifungal drugs in orbit, and in 2006 it sent GeneSat to space to test how E. coli bacteria behave in space. “Secondary payload nanosatellites, like O/OREOS are an innovative way to extend and enhance scientists’ opportunities to conduct research in low Earth orbit by providing an alternative to the International Space Station or space shuttle investigations,” said Ehrenfreund.

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