8. ) Satellites everywhere
|(Image source: NASA)|
The year 2019 might well be known as the Year of the Satellites. Regular-sized and tiny ones were launched in record numbers this year. By mid-year, 60 small satellites were sent into low-earth orbit (LEO) on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. These communication satellites were the first installment of an internet-beaming mega-constellation that the company hopes will grow to include thousands of satellites over the next few years.
Then, in November, 60 more Starlink satellites were sent into orbit. This continued barrage of launches were driven by SpaceX’s contract to have 2,213 Starlink satellites in orbit by March 2024 or face penalties from the FCC. Of note on the November launch was the reuse of SpaceX Falcon 9 fairings. This is the location where cubesats are typically placed, which might mean more cubesats will accompany the StarLink communication satellites into LEO.
Which leads into the other big – or rather tiny – satellite trend for 2019, namely, the growth of tiny, nano-satellites (or nanosats). Nanosats and cubesats typically have a mass from 1 kg to 10 kg. There is even an even small versions known as a Chipsats - cracker-size, gram-scale wafer miniprobes.
All of these tiny satellites have been made possible by the semiconductor-driven miniaturization of electronic and electromechanical systems (think Moore’s Law). The original goal of all these miniature satellites was to provide affordable access to space for the university science community. Many major universities now have a space program, as do several private company startups and even government agencies like NASA and the DoD.