Small satellites: Taking advantage of smartphones and other consumer technologies, tiny satellites are changing the space business.
ALTHOUGH widely used, satellites are expensive to build and to launch. That began to change last year. On November 19th Orbital Sciences, an American company, launched a rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It carried 29 satellites aloft and released them into low-Earth orbit, a record for a single mission. Thirty hours later, Kosmotras, a Russian joint-venture, carried 32 satellites into a similar orbit. Then, in January 2014, Orbital Sciences carried 33 satellites up to the International Space Station (ISS), where they were cast off a month later.
Many of these 94 satellites were built in a standard format known as a CubeSat, a 10cm (4 inch) cube weighing 1.3kg (2.9lb) or less. Some comprised units of two or three cubes. After a decade of fits and starts, during which some 75 CubeSats were launched, satellites of this scale and other small satellites are moving from being experimental kit to delivering useful scientific data and commercial services.