Sputnik: 100,000 Satellites Above Our Heads: A New Species Accessing Space Every Day | Science

The first space race began as a war and propaganda competition. When Americans heard a signal from Sputnik in 1957, they knew Russian missiles were within range of their cities. They must have been relieved when, in 1969, Werner von Braun, the Nazi creator of the first ballistic missiles, allowed them to win the race to the moon with powerful rockets.

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The first space race began as a battle and propaganda competition. When Americans heard a signal from Sputnik in 1957, they knew Russian missiles were within range of their cities. They must have been relieved when, in 1969, Nazi Werner von Braun, the creator of the first ballistic missiles, allowed the powerful Saturn rockets to win the race to the moon. The technological benefits of that conflict were plentiful and ubiquitous in the lives of people who would be lost without satellite guidance, but that initial impetus dissipated with the fall of the Soviet Union. Three decades later, with a renaissance of history that few considered later, a new space race began in which the great powers once again measured their prestige and weapons. But more participants in this new race will be small companies or students and professors from anywhere in the world making relevant contributions.

As of 2013, Vicente Díaz and Miguel Ángel Vázquez developed photovoltaic solar panels to generate electricity on Earth. The entry of Chinese companies left them on the streets and created an embarrassment. “There were colleagues who switched to gas and oil, but coming from renewables wasn't what I really wanted,” says Díaz, sitting at a table in a hotel in Malaga. In those years, the new space was born, the transformation of the space industry arising from technological changes allowed the creation of smaller and cheaper satellites, which could be launched on affordable rockets and participate in the renewed space race. The Costa del Sol is thousands of kilometers from Houston, Moscow or Beijing. Díaz and Vázquez founded DHV Technology, which already produces solar panels to generate energy in space that powers more than 260 satellites. They are also the organizers of International Forum on Small Satellites and Services (SSSIF, its acronym in English), this week in Malaga has brought together many of the protagonists of this new phase of the space race.

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“When I started, if you wanted to do this work, you had to go to America, but now it can be done almost anywhere,” says Jordi Puig-Suari, a type of Cubesats fathers, small and cheap satellites. It defines this new era of access to a more democratic space. “One before being Rocket scientist [ingeniero espacial] It was intimidating, and launching a satellite required big companies and huge investments. Now, satellites can be built with commercial components that don't have to last for years, and even allow students to build and launch their own satellites,” explains the university professor. Cal Balien EU.

Juan Tomás Hernány, CEO of Sutlandis, is an expert Earth observation technology With small satellites for border surveillance or climate change mitigation, he did the math in this new world. Traditional satellites are large and require technology that has been in place for decades to recover a large investment. Now we should not be obsessed with having such durable technology, it is worth it to give the necessary results for a few years, long enough to recover the investment before the technology becomes obsolete or the satellite stops working. At that time it can be replaced by another one incorporating new technology. Earth observation satellite Like PEACE, from the Spanish Ministry of Defense, weighs 1,400 kg and costs 160 million euros. Small satellites weigh about 100 kg and cost less than a tenth of that. Puig-Suari highlights the value of these satellites for defense operations. “Before, you could have a very expensive satellite that would be disabled by an attack. Now, there are constellations of smaller satellites that perform the same functions and are very difficult to cancel,” he explains. Some will not replace the others, but they will complement them and allow more companies to do business in space.

Fernando Aguado, a professor at the University of Vigo and creator of the first Spanish satellite built with the CubeSat standard, points to other space applications that “improve our daily lives in many ways that people sometimes don't know about.” The opportunity to continue taking pictures of Earth is allowed Improving the microcredit system This helps farmers in countries like Kenya or India. By analyzing the type of exploitation of a given farmer, it is possible to more easily and accurately assess the risk of credit and speed up its disbursement. Aguado said the new space gives students like him a chance to build satellites and put them into orbit, “at a public and not a very large university.” The inspiration given before the epic to reach the moon comes from the possibility of being a protagonist in space exploration, even in the simplest of projects.

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Earth's orbit, a new space mission with increasingly small satellites to improve startical air traffic control and launch planes to travel closer and more efficiently, saw epic exploration in Malaga. remains a fundamental motivation for frontier engineering. Several representatives of NASA and the European Space Agency explained their plans to return to the Moon and set up colonies and from there to prepare an attack on Mars. In this effort, state support continues in almost all cases, although states later contract out their services to private companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX. “We focus on the hard stuff, like carrying astronauts, building a platform or building a space station, and private industry can sell us services like logistics or communications,” explains Carlos Garcia Colon from NASA. One example, also discussed in Malaga, is ROXY, the Airbus-led project to produce oxygen from lunar regolith, an essential step for life on our satellite. All of this would make returning to the moon cheaper and faster, and landing this time has far more complex aspects than six decades ago. “Right now, we can't tolerate the deaths that happened in the Apollo program, which is why we've taken so long to complete the Artemis II and III systems, which will carry humans back to the moon,” Callan says.

Andres Martinez He is one of the people responsible for harnessing the potential of small satellites for space exploration for NASA. One of the projects he led was BioSentinel, a shoebox-sized satellite that launched samples of beer yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to study the effects of radiation on living things and learn about the dangers of traveling to the Moon or Mars in deep space. In Málaga, he joked about the fortunes of the Astrobotic Company's first launch, which failed in its first attempt to reach the moon. The mission is part of the CLPS program, through which NASA wants to make returning to the moon cheaper by hiring private companies to return to the moon. “The next one will take our most expensive rover,” Martinez says, referring to VIPER, a robot that searches for ice and other useful resources at the moon's south pole. OdysseusThursday's moon landing was the first mission of the CLPS program to successfully reach a satellite.

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NASA or the European Space Agency will begin building a lunar base in the 2030s to learn to live off Earth. What will be learned in those decades will allow us to tell whether the dream of reaching Mars is actually possible. . García Colón says they no longer take it for granted because the unknowns abound in space. When the first men return to the Moon, they will launch experimental systems to work without support from Earth; Communications would be delayed by 20 minutes, so Mars-bound astronauts would be alone in emergencies. And they have to learn to deal with less epic, but more important problems, like the plague of negatively charged lunar dust that sticks mercilessly everywhere. Meanwhile, small and large satellites continue to change the world. There are more than 8,000 in orbit now, but more than 100,000 are expected by the end of the decade. On Earth, the international political climate can slow space development, in which private initiative is increasingly weighted, but the opposite can also happen. The years when space technology developed so rapidly that the human race came very close to destroying itself.

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