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Monday 15 February 2016

Miniature spacecraft to set sail on full sized missions by the decade's end.

Above: Three cubesats being launched into space from the International Space Station.

Miniaturisation of electronics was the thing that made computers the massive turning point of the twentieth century. Now a lot of space enthusiasts are hoping that miniaturisation could be the next big revolution in space travel - and it's already looking like it might be: Over the last ten to fifteen years cubesats, thumbsats, and other miniature-and-affordable spacecraft have become a thriving niche market for doing science, such as testing new space drives,  in Earth orbit.

Above: The Lightsail-A solar sail testing cubesat.

Thanks to all the advances made in spacecraft miniaturisation cubesats are about to start flying into interplanetary space. In fact 13 cubesats will be travelling to Moon with the first launch of NASA's up and coming SLS rocket. The Near Earth Asteroid Scout will fly by solar sail propulsion (which was recently tested on a cubesat) to an asteroid, the MARCO cubesat's are travelling to Mars, and the Lunar Flashlight mission will map the poles of the Moon for water ice.

The future of space travel has room for both huge manned ships and tiny unmanned probes, but both are growing out capabilities in space - and I wonder where that will lead us?

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