Smaller, multiple satellite missions are economical and provide redundancy. Instead of launching one big, heavy satellite, launching lots of little is easier. They can orbit Earth in tandem, each doing their own small part of the overall mission. If a solar flare zaps one satellite—no problem. The rest can close ranks and carry on. Launch costs are reduced, too, because tiny satellites can hitch a ride inside larger payloads, getting to space almost free of charge.Floating Battledroids [via Universe Today] Thanks, Belabras! Images via NASA.
It's not just Bender and the crew on Futurama who are getting busy with 20-side die in space. These are actual pictures from the International Space Station, taken of an experiment with satellite technology devised (of course) by MIT students. Want to see these autonomous, flying Dungeons and Dragons bits up close? Then click through. Called SPHERES (for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites), these colorful game pieces may be about to change the way spaceships operate. They're tiny prototypes of what could be large, autonomous ships that fly in formation and automatically rendezvous with each other in space. Universe Today's Nancy Atkinson points out that these are essentially maintenance droids of the future, which could perform satellite maintenance and even build an entire spacecraft in orbit. They might also eventually replace satellites altogether. Atkinson writes: