The smallest satellite ever launched is successfully travelling in low Earth orbit and communicating with systems on Earth. Known as ‘Sprites’, the miniature satellites are just 3.5cm x 3.5cm and carry radios, sensors and computers, with each device powered by sunlight and weighing just four grams.
While nanosatellites known as CubeSats have previously been sent into space, such systems have a mass thousands of times that of the Sprites, weighing more than 1kg.
Scientists say the latest development is an important precursor to an ambitious attempt to send space probes to planets beyond our solar system, dubbed Breakthrough Starshot.
Breakthrough Starshot’s goal is to develop chips with a weight of roughly one gram and fit them to a lightweight sail before propelling them through space with a 100-billion watt laser.
Sprites have previously been carried on board the International Space Station, but this is the first demonstration that it is possible to launch such a lightweight satellite.