Before launching into heavy-duty terms such as ‘cubesat’ and ‘Blue Origin’, one should have a fair idea about the meanings of these terms. With a bit of background info, understanding the space research opportunities for regular citizens becomes very easy to grasp
Cubesat: The Basics
In very simple terms, cubesat is a ‘miniature satellite for space research’. As the name suggests, the cubesat is in the form of a cube. They have use in space technology for monitoring various activities by satellites such as weather conditions, changes in Earth’s magnetic field, track ships at sea, and so on. The uses are endless. You can also refer to the cubesat as a “Nano Satellite.” The space stations such as International Space Station put these cubesats into orbit for their experiments. You can also launch the same as a secondary payload on a launch vehicle. Main online resources for cubesats are at http://www.cubesat.us/ and http://www.cubesat.org/ so have a quick read up and watch some videos for ideas on small satellite projects.
Cubesats: A little technical information
You have seen that the cubesat is a nano satellite. The cubesat can perform all the functions of a regular satellite. However, the size of the cubesat is miniature in the range of 10 cubic centimeters. It weighs less than one kilogram. You should know that there are more than 3000 such cubesats orbiting around the earth, collecting vital information for research. Many more cubesats are in the pipeline waiting for a launch. This is where companies such as Blue origin etc can help you out.
Blue Origin is an enterprise specializing in manufacture and launch of space vehicles. Blue Origin specializes in the Vertical Launch Vertical Landing (VTVL) kind of space vehicles. Naturally, a space launch vehicle would require suborbital satellites for conducting the experiments. You can send the cubesats through such launch vehicles into space. Very recently, Blue Origin launched their test vehicle New Shepard into space. The vehicle had a successful launch and landing too. Now the Company wishes to move ahead and is in discussions with other space launch giants too. There are many opportunities for engineers manufacturing the cubesats to collaborate with Blue Origin for the launch of their cubesats. Launch opportunities for Cubesats: (www.verticalgateway.com)
One of the earliest launches of a cubesat was in 2003 by Eurockot Launch Service. Subsequently many companies entered into the fray. Today there are many such cubesat launch providers available in the country. The prominent among those are NASA, NanoRacks, Virgin Galactic, and
SpaceX and so on. Out of these NanoRacks has entered into an agreement with Blue Origin to provide customer support and payload integration for suborbital research and educational payloads. read more at www.spaceflightinsider.com.
Costs involved in launching a cubesat:
The estimate costs for launching a cubesat today is in the range of $65000 to $80000. These costs are inexpensive considering the value of the research. This has prompted many universities to develop their own cubesats. The cost associated with building a cubesat would be as low as say $10000. The main drawback cubesat manufacturers can face today is the availability of launch vehicles to launch their cubesats. This becomes a very expensive process. Blue Origin has an objective of making space travel economical. As part of this endeavor, they have plans of making the launch of these cubesats economical. It is for these reasons they have entered into collaboration with NanoRacks.
NanoRacks have great experience in launching payloads especially to the International Space Station. They have also developed their own cubesat launcher to launch these cubesats into the lower Earth orbit. They have stationed this Cubesat launcher aboard the International Space Station. NanoRacks have collaborated with Blue Origin with plans of using the VTVL launch vehicle, New Shepard for their suborbital payload services. .
Advantages of using this vehicle:
You can use this vehicle multiple number of times. It works in the following fashion. The launch vehicle as well as the boosters will launch vertically and have a continuous acceleration for about two and a half minutes. The capsule then separates from the booster and coasts into space. The booster then has a free fall for a couple of minutes. Then the automated landing procedure takes over. It envisages use of parachutes to make a safe vertical landing. The vehicle is then ready for another launch. Using this vehicle, you would be able to send multiple payloads at immediate frequencies. This multiple use allows Blue Origin to reduce their charges thus making the entire process affordable.
The reduction in the cost can benefit schools and universities to design their own cubesats. They can now use it to teach students about the finer art of making and launching cubesats. The prohibitive cost factor is no longer present once Blue Origin starts its launch process on a regular basis. As on date, the New Shepard has made a successful launch and landing as well. As on date they are offering a special option for student experiments for an amount as low as $5300, more at www.spacenews.com
The reusable launch vehicles will be of interest to other space launchers too such as NASA and others.
The revolutionary technique can play a great role in reducing the operational costs. This is the aim of Blue Origin in a way.
Window of opportunities for cubesat developers:
The cost factor was a major hurdle for any cubesat designer. You can design a cubesat for as low an amount as $10000. To launch the same you had to shell out close to seven times this amount. This makes the project unviable. The entry of Blue Origin into the fray with their VTVL satellite launch vehicle has changed the scenario. Now on its successful implementation, one would be able to launch their cubesats at a fraction of the present cost. This opens up window of opportunities for the cubesat designers.
Blue Origin is succeeding in its endeavor of making space travel cheaper. They have won the first battle with the launch of the VTVL New Shepard. This is the first of more to come. Space research would again become a viable option for students in the near future. Contact details for the company can be accessed at the space directory webiste http://www.aerospacee.com/item/blue-origin/ so there is nothing stopping you getting in touch to find your place in space. What would you fly? Let us know on twitter.