The big rockets of our day get all of the fanfare during a launch, but often they're accompanied by tiny stowaways known as CubeSats, which hitch a ride and drop into orbit. They're convenient and able to get us into space cheaply, roughly the size of a Rubik's Cube and weigh only three pounds. A potential problem with them, though, is there's no way to control them once they're gone, and when we keep sending them farther from terra firma, they could pile up in space. To nip that problem in the bud early, an MIT professor has developed penny-sized thrusters that could help us take them down ourselves.
Right now, the two dozen CubeSats in the atmosphere are fine; they retire, float for a while, then die burning up in the atmosphere. But if we want them to stay in a higher orbit (we do), they could stay there a lot longer, potentially cluttering up the orbit, or even causing collisions. To relieve any space congestion, Paulo Lozano, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, has created miniature engines for the CubeSats that run on ion beams. They're small, flat squares lined with 500 microscopic tips. When the tips are hit with voltage, they emit a stream of ions, enough of which can move the CubeSat along.
If we have those, we could drive the CubeSats into satellite seppuku, driving them down into the atmosphere once they're done, or even better, use them to pick up the remans of other CubeSats, clearing the way for more satellites.
Does this mean that they can put small satellite in the next solar system by using Saturn’s magnetic field as propulsion system, and this as fuel to direct it? If the charge is powered by laser wouldn’t half the speed of light be reachable for two grams making this a 12 year trip. Only 18 years to data.
Inion drive! Yea baby!
One day in the future with the extension and quality of human life, human conscious perhaps too and a much more stable human society, humans might use inion drive and or something much more advance to travel the cosmos.
Ion drives are already in use, these are just smaller versions. They are great for deep space travel because their speed gains close to exponentially as they travel through space without resistance. One of their only real downsides is they still require something to get them up to speed to escape gravity, e.g. a booster rocket. For the purpose of simply pointing a satellite down out of orbit, these things would be great.
If it can remain a cost effective product with a longer lifetime and increased size, such as with a cheap element fuel source as supplement and a larger ability to carry through a large solar array; it could be a good base platform for really cleaning LEO of debris. Big idea in a little package.
Here I thought they were trying to clean our orbiting space junk.
Could these be equipped with magnets and have them drift in orbit so they can collide with space debris and help push more of this orbit crap into the atmosphere to help actually clean up this space?
It would help with future space travel to have this debris cleared.