Miniature satellites known as ‘Sprites” are now floating in our planet’s orbit. These solar-powered devices carry in each of them computers, radios, and sensors that send signals back to Earth.
Although nanosatellites have been sent into space before, The Sprites are the smallest spacecraft ever launched into outer space. Known as The CubeSats, the first group of space probe has a mass of more than 1 kilogram each. The newly-launched mini-satellites, on the other hand, are a thousand times lighter than the first. They weigh only 4 grams and are only 3.5 by 3.5 centimeters in size.
Professor at Harvard University and a member of the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative, the fleet of mini-satellites costs only ten dollars each. She adds that the weight of the satellite needs to be featherlight to increase the chances of reaching the nearest stars. The Sprites, according to her, requires moving at a fraction of speed, or even faster. The lightness allows them to do so.
This event signifies a huge leap in the Breakthrough Starshot. The project funded $100 million by renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Yuri Milner in its first five years aims to send space probes to neighboring planets outside our solar system.
These new fleet of Sprites led by Zac Manchester are the first to be sent to space to communicate with the International Space station. One of these lightweight space probes is attached to the Latvian Venta satellite. Another one is on the Italian Max Valier satellite.
THE SPRITES AND THE BREAKTHROUGH STARSHOT
The Breakthrough Starshot project uses miniaturization technology to enable a small-sized chip to host navigation equipment and a camera. The communication system on the device relies on laser rather than on radio-waves to communicate signals.
The project’s ambitious aim is to utilize these tiny satellites to gather data related to the possibility of life outside of Earth. In fact, the target of The Sprites is Alpha Centauri. It is the closest star system to earth. Inside of it is the star Proxima Centauri which the planet Proxima b orbits.
Proxima b is a rocky planet that is within what the scientists would call as “habitable zone.” Through the help of The Sprites, The Breakthrough Starshot aims for the miniature starships to take photos and record data. The real challenge is on how to transmit this recorded information considering the distance of more than four light years to a planet’s receiving station.
Brilliant scientist Stephen Hawking still believes that transcending limits is what humans do best. The science genius acknowledges the void that separates our world and the stars. Nonetheless, he firmly believes that through our mind’s and our machines, anything can be possible.
Thus, he hopes that through lasers and lightweight space probes, the search for extraterrestrial life will become successful. “Our nature is to fly, ” Hawking affirms.
The fleet of Sprites recently launched open up great opportunities for space exploration. By reaching for the stars, the search for evidence of life elsewhere shows a great potential.