Impression of implementation of the artist
Launched by 3U CubeSat KickSat-2 in March, the "Sprite ChipSats" were 32×32 mm PCBs and weighed 4g each, including solar cells, radio and microcontroller.
"This demonstration confirms that incredibly small and inexpensive spacecraft are more than possible: they are real. KickSat started the democratic space era," said Mason Peck, director of Cornell's space systems design studio.
A Sprite ChipSat is 35mm on one side (or 23mm, sources vary). It is deployed when a bar passing through the hole is ejected
Peck led the initial development of the Sprites with former students Zachary Manchester and Justin Atchison. Manchester, now at Stanford, has designed and built the KickSat-2 spacecraft with collaborators at the NASA Ames Research Center and has guided the mission since its inception.
Using solar energy, the Sprites transmitted short bursts of milliwatts at ~ 400 MHz.
"The goal of the Sprites on KickSat-2 is to demonstrate basic skills, one of which is communication that does not interfere with other satellites," said Peck. "In a few years, we expect scientific and commercial applications. The next generation has GPS navigation capabilities and can measure atmospheric behaviors, magnetic fields and much more."
The Sprites were sent into orbit at KickSat-2 in November 2018 on the Cygnus NG-10 rocket, which was en route to the International Space Station. Only on March 18 of this year KickSat-2 deployed the Sprites – in a way that ensured the return to Earth's atmosphere in a few days. The original KickSat burned a few years ago with its Sprites still inside.
According to Peck, more Sprite missions are proposed, including CAESAR, an idea for a spacecraft that could make peace with a comet.