Aug. 19, 1999
Headquarters, Washington, DC
They're each about the size of a large birthday cake, weigh about as much as a desktop computer, and are smart enough to fly in formation far from Earth while they test new technologies.
They are three very small satellites, called the Nanosat Constellation Trailblazer mission, and today NASA selected them as the agency's latest New Millennium mission. The mission will validate methods of operating several spacecraft as a system, and test eight technologies in the harsh space environment near the boundary of Earth's protective magnetic field, or magnetosphere.
Each Trailblazer spacecraft will be an octagon 16 inches across and 8 inches high, and each will have booms and antennas that will extend after launch. The mission will cost $28 million and will be launched in 2003 as a secondary payload on an expendable launch vehicle. The mission is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD.
Results from the Trailblazer mission will be used to design future missions using constellations of lightweight (about 44 pounds), highly miniaturized autonomous spacecraft. One proposed constellation of up to 100 spacecraft positioned around the Earth will monitor the effects of solar activity that can affect spacecraft, electrical power and communications systems. Others will study global precipitation and the atmospheres of other planets.
The Nanosat Constellation Trailblazer is the fifth in the agency's New Millennium program, which tests technology for future space and Earth science missions. The program's goal is to dramatically reduce the weight, size and costs of missions while increasing their science capabilities.
The technologies to be flown and tested, and the partners involved, are:
"Not only could these technologies make future missions more productive and less expensive, some could become consumer products," said Dr. Dana Brewer, New Millennium Program Executive, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "For example, the variable- emittance thermal-control system is a coating applied to surfaces such as automobile windows which becomes highly reflective when you apply an electrical current to it. It blocks out a lot of the sunlight, keeping it cooler inside a car."