The Next Big Thing in Outer Space May Be Quite Small

Comments Off on The Next Big Thing in Outer Space May Be Quite Small
The Next Big Thing in Outer Space May Be Quite Small

Over the past 20 years, 400 microsatellites have been launched into Earth’s orbit. Microsatellites, also called microsats, are smaller, cheaper versions of conventional satellites. According to a BBC News1 report, a typical microsat weighs 100 kilograms (or roughly 220 pounds), and costs just 10 million euros (or less than $14 million).

Like conventional satellites, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars, microsats can be used for global positioning systems, to provide weather data, and to take pictures of the Earth for military and scientific reasons.

Another benefit of microsats is that they are easy to maneuver, so they can be used to repair satellites that are in orbit, or to guide an errant satellite back on course, like a dog herding stray cattle.

Microsats are being developed by NASA and the European Space Agency as well as universities and businesses such as the British company Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, or SSTL. According to the BBC,2 SSTL, which works in partnership with Britain’s Surrey Space Centre, has launched 27 microsats in the past quarter-century.

But what is troubling is that SSTL has shared its technology to help such countries as China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey, Algeria, and Vietnam build microsats. And, in the hands of a hostile government, microsats could be used to disrupt the satellite system that is crucial to U.S. military planning.

In fact, the same qualities that make microsats valuable — low cost, small size, and easy maneuverability — also make them dangerous. Because they are cheap, they are more affordable to rogue nations or terrorists. Because they are small, they are hard to see. Because they are easy to maneuver, they can be guided from the ground to intercept another satellite — such as the ones that are crucial to national defense, military strategy, or communications. Specifically, a microsat could spy on other satellites, block their view of Earth, or even, if it carried a payload of explosives, destroy them.

As Laura Grego, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists told the BBC, “With a microsat you can go close to other spacecrafts in order to repair them, but also to sabotage them. . . . If someone interferes with another satellite, or even if the interference is caused accidentally by a piece of debris, this kind of event is likely to start a war.”

The threat is rising because many countries are accelerating their own microsat programs. Russia’s ITAR-TASS3 news agency announced in January 2007 that Moscow’s Lavochkin Science and Production Association is building 25 microsatellites for the Russian Academy of Sciences...

To continue reading, become a paid subscriber for full access.
Already a Trends Magazine subscriber? Login for full access now.

Subscribe for as low as $195/year

  • Get 12 months of Trends that will impact your business and your life
  • Gain access to the entire Trends Research Library
  • Optional Trends monthly CDs in addition to your On-Line access
  • Receive our exclusive "Trends Investor Forecast 2015" as a free online gift
  • If you do not like what you see, you can cancel anytime and receive a 100% full refund