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Nano-satellites enable space exploration on a budget

Shoebox-sized craft can be launched for well under $1 million

This artist's rendering shows a CubeSat satellite orbiting the earth with its solar panel arrays extended. (Photo courtesy of UNSW)

SYDNEY A swarm of shoebox-sized satellites is scheduled to begin the first stage of a historic journey into space on April 18, when an Atlas V rocket blasts off from Florida's Cape Canaveral space center with the tiny satellites on board, along with NASA equipment and supplies. All are destined for the International Space Station.

Marking Australia's re-entry into the space race after 15 years, Australian universities are sending three of these nano-satellites into space, each weighing about 2kg and costing about $1 million Australian dollars ($750,919) each, including transport to the space station. The tiny spacecraft will undertake research gauging atmospheric density for up to a year, before burning up on re-entry.

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