Over the past few decades, the way humans explore space is not only time-consuming, but also costly. But the rise of satellite miniaturization technology is reshaping the space exploration industry. Earlier this year, NASA was struggling with which robotic missions to explore the solar system. Researchers from all over the United States have come up with more than 20 ideas, such as exploring the atmosphere of asteroids and Venus, and drilling lunar lava pipelines.

image: on November 26, 2018, NASA cubic planet took this picture about 6000 km away from Mars. The concept of the interplanetary satellite mission has also stimulated interest in the emerging space industry. “That mission caught our attention and we were inspired by it and wanted to know what else we could do,” said will pmerantz, head of special programs at virgin rail

at the end of NASA’s cube planet mission, virgin orbit began to receive calls from the research team about launcherone. The launcherone is the company’s small rocket, which is carried high into the air by a 747 aircraft and then started the engine. How many payloads can this launch vehicle put into lunar orbit? Can the company add a third tier? The idea of missions to Venus, asteroids, and Mars is pouring in.

Polish scientists believe that they can build spacecraft with a mass of 50 kg or less (each cube planet weighs 13.5 kg) to take high-quality images of Mars and its Moon Phobos. Such a spacecraft could also be used to study the Martian atmosphere and even discover reservoirs of liquid water below the surface of Mars. Launching a low-cost launch is a key driver for the idea to be put into practice.

Pomeranz pointed out that without this new model of planetary exploration, countries like Poland might only be involved as one of several secondary partners in the Mars mission, and now it can explore independently. “Even a modest space exploration mission can make Poland famous,” Pomeranz said

a few months before CubeSat and insight landers were launched on Atlas V, the much smaller electron rocket launched for the first time. This is a new generation of commercial small satellite carrier rocket developed by rocket laboratory and launched from New Zealand, and the first of its kind to enter orbit. The low earth orbit payload capacity of the small booster is about 200 kg. But since electron’s debut, rocket labs has developed an upgraded version of the photon.

Peter Beck, founder of the rocket lab, said the company believes that photon can deliver a 25kg payload to Mars or Venus and up to 37kg to the moon. Because photon provides many functions of deep space vehicles, most of the mass can be used to carry sensors and scientific instruments. “What we mean is that you can land on the moon for 15 to 20 million dollars,” Baker said. I think it’s a huge, disruptive plan for the scientific community. ”

of the destinations that electron can reach, Beck is most interested in Venus. “I think this is the unsung hero in our solar system, and we can learn a lot about the earth from Venus,” he said. Mars attracts all the media attention, but Venus deserves more attention. We really want to complete the mission of exploring Venus. ”

there are other bigger rockets coming along. Firefly’s alpha booster can send nearly a ton of payload into low earth orbit, while relativity space is developing a Terran 1 rocket that can launch just over a ton. These launch vehicles could send CubeSat beyond the asteroid belt, toward Jupiter or beyond.

Finally, SpaceX’s low-cost launch revolution stimulated by bigger rockets may also help. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which costs less than $60 million to launch in reusable mode, can send larger spacecraft into deep space cheaply. Historically, NASA has paid three times, or more, for scientific research launches.

of course, there is a trade-off. One reason NASA’s mission costs are so high is that the agency has taken extensive precautions to ensure that its vehicles do not fail in the space environment. In the end, most of NASA’s very complex missions did achieve amazing success.

CubeSat has higher risk and less redundancy. But it doesn’t matter. He cites NASA’s curiosity lunar probe mission, which was launched in 2011 at a cost of $2.5 billion, enough to send 100 micro robots into the solar system. Even if only a quarter of the missions were effective, that would mean 25 Mini curiosity launches.

NASA seems to be open to the idea, and the agency has said it will learn to accept failure as it seeks to control costs and work with business partners on new lunar science programs. Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science program, said he would tolerate some mistakes when NASA tried to land a scientific experiment on the moon. “We don’t expect every launch and landing to be successful,” he said last year

at JPL, planetary scientists and engineers are also open-minded. John Baker, who leads the technology development and mission of “changing the rules of the game” in the lab, says that no one wants to take 20 years or more to make the mission vision a reality, which is full of uncertainty. “Now, people want to design and print their structures, add instruments and avionics, refuel it and launch it immediately,” he said. This is our vision for the future. ”

of course, space flight is still full of challenges. Many technologies can be miniaturized, but propulsion and fuel remain difficult. However, willing to fail brings many new possibilities. One of Beck’s favorite designs is the Cupid’s arrow mission to Venus, where spacecraft like NASA’s cube planet will be launched into Venus’ atmosphere, and an airborne mass spectrometer will analyze atmospheric samples. This is a mission that can be launched as a secondary payload in a lunar mission and uses gravity to assist in reaching Venus.

the most exciting aspect of reducing the cost of interstellar missions is that it increases the opportunities for new participants, which can be participated by small countries like Poland and universities from all over the world. “I think the best thing that can be done is find a way to reduce costs and then make the technology public,” Baker said. As more and more countries participate in the exploration of the solar system, we will only learn more. ”

organizations such as the Milo Institute of Arizona State University have begun to promote cooperation among universities, emerging space agencies, private charities and small space companies. From calendar