On Wednesday, Tel Aviv University launched a new space exploration center focused on miniature shoebox-sized satellites. The center will be founded with the support of The Porter Foundation, a charitable trust with offices in the U.K. and Israel that focuses on environmental issues, education, and social causes.
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According to an announcement published by the university, the small satellites are designed to be easily, swiftly and economically assembled to make satellite technology more accessible to scientists. A team of engineers will construct the satellites in collaboration with university staff and students, according to specific research needs.
Miniature satellites can free scientists from dependency on large ones, normally launched and controlled by government and military agencies, said Colin Price, head of the environmental studies department at the university as part of the announcement.
Made possible by smaller and cheaper electronic components, miniature satellites are launched to space as a secondary payload, entering earth’s orbit at a height of 250-370 miles. Moving at 5 miles a second, the satellites complete a full cycle of the earth every 90 minutes and are meant for research in various fields including environment, geophysics, geography, meteorology, and biology.
Dubbed CubeSats, the 4” cubes are equipped with micro cameras, sensors, and antennas, compiled specifically for a specific scientific mission. Construction of such a satellite takes about 2 years and costs some $500K, unlike traditional large-scale satellites which take years to complete and with a cost in the millions. The planned building of the new Israeli communication satellite AMOS-8, expected to launch in February 2021, is estimated at $20.5 million.