Miniature satellites

Nasa has selected 16 palm-sized satellites, developed by various institutions in the US, for launch as additional payloads over the next three years.

Called CubeSats, the cube-shaped nano-satellites measure approximately 4in on each side and weigh less than 3lb.

They will conduct technology demonstration, educational research or science missions.

The 16 satellites have been selected as part of the fifth round of Nasa’s CubeSat launch initiative, which aims to promote a space nation and develop technology partnerships.

Launched in 2010, the programme has so far selected 99 CubeSats from 28 US states in four rounds. It was extended to cover the entire nation in July 2014.

Nasa has also launched 27 as part of the Launch Services Programme’s educational launch of nano-satellites (ELaNa) programme. In addition, four separate launches are being planned this year to carry 17 satellites.

Four satellites were launched last month as auxiliary payload aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket that carried the soil moisture active passive (SMAP) satellite.

"The cube-shaped nano-satellites measure approximately 4in on each side and weigh less than 3lb."

The satellites were developed by California Polytechnic State University, Montana State University and Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Montana State University director of the Space Science and Engineering Laboratory David Klumpar said: "Nasa’s ELaNa programme provides higher education students the opportunity to test drive their future STEM professions in a genuine setting while gaining hands-on experience in all phases of the spaceflight development life cycle.

"Through the ELaNa programme, students launch not only their satellites, they launch their careers."

The 16 satellites selected in the fifth round will be flown during launches scheduled from 2014 to 2016.

Nasa will call another round of proposals in August.

Image: CubeSats being deployed from the International Space Station. Photo: courtesy of Nasa.