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Published on : Oct 04, 2016

Nanosatellites and microsatellites are a relatively recent addition to the global space aviation market, but have become a key asset to the industry thanks to their many benefits. The size of satellites has reduced notably in the past decades due to the progression of computing technology, which enabled the creation of small computing units with as much or more power as the earlier versions, and the development of lightweight materials that could bear as much or more weight as conventional materials. This has resulted in the development of microsatellites, which weigh between 10 kg and 100 kg, and nanosatellites, which weigh between 1 kg to 10 kg.

Nanosatellites and Microsatellites: The Pros

Due to their small size, nanosatellites and microsatellites are:

Cheaper to Construct: Nanosatellites and microsatellites naturally require less building materials than conventional satellites. Since they are often utilized as a cluster rather than as a standalone unit, manufacturing nanosatellites and microsatellites can be done through the use of mass manufacturing techniques, which further reduces the manufacturing costs.

Cheaper to Launch: Due to their lower weight, nanosatellites and microsatellites need much less thrust than conventional satellites. This requires exponentially less fuel, significantly lowering the costs of launching them. The use of nanosatellites and microsatellites as a cluster also means individual satellites don’t require separate launches.

Even launching an individual nanosatellite or microsatellite can be made much more economical by using the extra space in spacecraft commissioned to launch other, larger satellites. Since the primary mission of the launch vehicle does not concern the small satellite, its developers can enjoy significant economic benefits at the cost of the relatively minor inconvenience of being unable to alter any aspect of the launch schedule.

… And the Cons

However, despite their benefits, the small size of nanosatellites and microsatellites and their utility as a cluster come at a risk of magnifying the problem of space debris. While the amount of information they provide is much higher as a cluster than as an individual unit, it also increases the risk of a chain reaction in case of a failure. Space debris has already become a mounting concern for the space aviation industry and can be exacerbated to a possibly uncontrollable degree if nanosatellite and microsatellite clusters become the norm.

Nevertheless, the advances brought about by nanosatellites and microsatellites in the fields of satellite imaging and communication are likely to drive their demand in the coming years.