Good Things Really Do Come In Small Packages.


We’ve all heard that old saying. When I have heard it the reference was usually made by someone of smaller stature, particular women, who suggest that just because they are small don’t underestimate them. As my wife has always said “Dynamite comes in small packages”, and look what it can do. The small packages I’m talking about perform a job that most of us would find hard to believe. I have mentioned them in previous articles. They are called CubeSats.

CubeSat Close Up | Photo by

What is a CubeSat? Here is a paragraph from my column article titled “Searching For New Discoveries The Hard Way” discussing how CubeSats were used on a Mars mission to land Insight on the Red Planet. “They had communications with InSight because of two special mini-satellites. They are called Mars Cube One satellites (MarCO) and were launched right along with InSight on the same rocket. The JPL describes them this way: “CubeSats are a class of spacecraft based on a standardized small size and modular use of off-the-shelf technologies. Many have been made by college students, and hundreds have been launched into Earth orbit using extra payload mass available on launches of larger spacecraft. MarCO is the first attempt to send CubeSats to another planet.

CubeSat Anatomy
Anatomy Of A CubeSat Mission | Image by

According to an article titled “Small Satellites yield Big Discoveries”posted on the NASA Science website “Just 4 inches (10 cm) across, these cubes can be expanded incrementally depending on their specific mission objectives.” “Originally developed in 1999 by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Stanford University for educational purposes, NASA has since used them for new science missions and to test new electronics, sensors and software  that might be included on larger missions.”

Labeled IceCube
IceCube Labeled Diagram | Image by

I’m sure that you know we have had weather satellites orbiting Earth since the early 1960s. The latest full-sized satellites can see infrared and visible images of the clouds and even see the moisture within the clouds. However there is a problem. They can’t see the smaller ice particles in those storm clouds. That’s where CubeSat comes to the rescue. Back to NASA Science “The CubeSat known as IceCube contained another submillimeter wavelength radiometer that could make a space-based measurement of the small, frozen crystals that make up ice clouds. After being deployed from the International Space Station in May 2017, IceCube created a global map of ice clouds around the planet. Someday, this technique may help improve long range weather models and forecasts.”

MarCO Mars Cube | Image by NASA throough You Tube

The Mars MarCO A and B that I mentioned earlier are the only CubeSats to have left Earth’s orbit, but there are plans for other missions to orbit the Moon and to go to the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy. The article explains: “According to Charles Norton, Special Advisor for Small Spacecraft missions in NASA’s Space Mission Directorate, another advantage of these compact cubes is they allow for very focused scientific inquiries to take place. The miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer CubeSat (MinXSS), for example, is a student project using a commercial laboratory detector in space. MinXSS measures the soft X-ray Solar spectrum in the gap of energy coverage between two other missions, REHSSI and IRIS. This ‘gap region’ in the solar spectrum is important in the excitation of the Earth’s ionosphere and of particular interest for observations of solar flares.”

HaloSat | Image by

Another CubeSat named HaloSat will be sent into deep space to check out X-rays from oxygen atoms that surround our Milky Way Galaxy. It’s purpose is to “determine how much missing matter may lie in the halo of our galaxy. They seemed to have touched only the very beginning of the uses for CubeSats.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].