Innovations Driving the Space Industry

Innovations Driving the Space Industry

Space engineering has matured into a series of interconnected technologies that deliver exciting new space science missions, a fire hose of Earth observation data, and a network of global communication and navigation services. Today, it is possible to land probes on comets and access remote areas in deep space

Fremont, CA: 2019 marked the 50th anniversary since the launch of Apollo 11, one of the most significant milestones in space history. This was possible primarily due to the advancements in space technology like rocket propulsion, onboard computing, and space operations, and an almost unlimited budget. Since then, space engineering has evolved into a multiverse which involves space exploration, space research, and leveraging space technology. Also, the number of participating nations in space engineering has increased multifold since 1969.

Space engineering has matured into a series of interconnected technologies that deliver exciting new space science missions, a fire hose of Earth observation data, and a network of global communication and navigation services. Today, it is possible to land probes on comets and access remote areas in deep space. Once again, the fast-improving technology must be credited for the success. With new technologies emerging every day, space findings are sure to grow even more in the coming years.

Over the years, miniaturization of technology has enabled a variety of spacecraft sizes, such as 100 kilogram small satellites used for Disaster Monitoring Constellation, consisting of a coordinated group of individual satellites. Small CubeSats weighing a few kilograms and carrying a range of different payloads is another result of miniaturization. These satellites are used for Earth observation, or to conduct low-cost science experiments. A large number of these can be launched at the same time as secondary payload along with larger satellites.

The aim is to miniaturize the size as much as possible and compensate the same in magnitude. The Sprite Device is an example of such technology, weighing just four grams despite being loaded with sensors, communication, and onboard data processing. These devices have already been mounted on the exterior of the International Space Station. And just recently, the KickSat-2 mission deployed 105 Sprite devices, costing under USD 100 each, in orbit about the Earth.

At the same time, there is also significant progress in the other end of the size spectrum. Large 30-meter deployable booms are already in use on the International Space Station to support its solar arrays. The aim here is to maximize the size of objects while keeping them lightweight. This is possible using 3D printing technology to work in a vacuum and microgravity. Large, lightweight structures directly in orbit can have a significant impact on space technology; getting around the risky hurdle of launching delicate structures from the ground.

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