Secondary Payloads Increasingly Take Center Stage

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.

That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

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NASA CubeSat to Test Miniaturized Weather Satellite Technology

The Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration (MiRaTA) satellite, a 3U CubeSat, is shown with solar panels fully deployed, flanking the body of the spacecraft, which has a circular aperture at the top for the microwave radiometer antenna, used for atmospheric science measurements. There are also two small, thin tape-measure antennas on the top, used for UHF radio communication with the ground station. (Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (NASA PR) — Behind every weather forecast—from your local, five-day prediction to a late-breaking hurricane track update—are the satellites that make them possible. Government agencies depend on observations from weather satellites to inform forecast models that help us prepare for approaching storms and identify areas that need evacuating or emergency first responders.

Weather satellites have traditionally been large, both in the effort needed to build them and in actual size. They can take several years to build and can be as big as a small school bus. But all of that could change in the future with the help of a shoebox-sized satellite that will start orbiting Earth later this month.

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