A Revolution in Small Satelites and Community Resilience

One of the reasons that Earth observation is a priority at NASA is that we know that the more a community knows about an impending hurricane or storm event, the better they are able to prepare and make themselves resilient.  Likewise, the more we in the global scientific community learn about our planet’s changing climate, the better we are able to respond and perhaps even reverse its effects.

This year we will be launching the first of five small-satellite, next generation Earth observation missions that offer much promise when it comes to measuring hurricanes and other critical aspects of Earth’s climate and weather.  The first of these missions, the RAVAN CubeSat, will advance our ability to track Earth’s energy budget.

One of the things that is so remarkable about these small-satellite missions is that they can have such a large impact on our understanding, while carrying such a small footprint.  These small satellites range in size from a loaf of bread to a small washing machine.  Some weigh just a few kilograms!

We are in the midst of what we at NASA call the “Small Satellite Revolution.”  Today, NASA has 71 CubeSat missions to fly almost 100 small spacecraft, which support 27 science, 15 technology, 6 exploration, and 23 STEM related investigations.

These missions are helping NASA advance scientific and human exploration, reduce the cost of new space missions, and expand access to space.  As NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the audience at the Satellite 2016 conference “…we recognize that when we’re able to make our launches more affordable and when we’re able to schedule our launches more rapidly, the results will be transformative and will potentially attract more young scientists and engineers into our field.”

From the standpoint of innovation, small satellite technology has the potential to be transformational.  Today, innovators both in and out of government are hard at work creating new architectures that were not feasible with traditionally sized satellites or spacecraft.  The innovation is staggering: the ability to take risk and significantly reduce the cost of demonstrating precursor technologies; the opportunity to flight test and demonstrate new sorts of revolutionary components; and the possibility of using swarms of multiple small satellites in tandem to achieve a broader array of coverage.

In the days, months, and years ahead we look forward to partnering across the public, private, academic, and non-profit sectors to leverage this innovative progress; progress that will help strengthen the resiliency of our communities for weather events and natural disasters, while strengthening our national economy.