The Breakthrough Starshot project, which promises to create a fleet of tiny interstellar spacecraft, has begun experiments in space.
The launch of the nanosatellites took place on June 23 aboard an Indian rocket, or rather, aboard a pair of larger satellites, which it successfully put into the calculated orbit. One Sprite is placed on the Latvian Venta apparatus, the second on the Italian Max Valier (both are made for educational purposes by the German company OHB System AG). As soon as the two nanosatellites establish communication, Max Valier will release four more of them on an independent flight, according to the Breakthrough Initiative report.
Recall that within the framework of the Breakthrough Initiative, the daring Breakthrough Starshot project is being implemented to send an armada of such nanosatellites to the Alpha Centauri star system. It is assumed that the vehicles will deploy solar sails and will illuminate them with lasers, gradually accelerating and gaining speed 20 percent of light. This will make it possible to make an interstellar flight in about 20 years and for the first time see the system of another star, including the potentially habitable planet Proxima b.
Each Sprite weighs just 4g and looks like a small PCB (3.5cm across) with antennas. In this tiny size, the developers, led by Zac Manchester (Zac Manchester) managed to squeeze in a processor, and a power supply, and solar panels, as well as a magnetometer, gyroscope and a radio communication system with the Earth.
The Sprite nanosatellite prototype carries a battery, control loops, sensors and communication antennas, "sewn" into a single board / © Breakthrough Project / Zac Manchester
A press release from the Breakthrough Initiative says that so far only one of the nanosatellites "sitting" on board the larger spacecraft has received a signal. The Italian Max Valier is still not communicating, and four more "sprites" on it in a separate container have not been released. There are fears that an antenna malfunction occurred on it, so that the device cannot establish contact with the Earth and receive a command to separate the nanosatellites.
However, the developers of Sprite consider this a triumph: at least one nanosatellite is working properly, despite the fact that it is the smallest device ever worked in space. In the future, the Breakthrough Initiative plans to establish a mass, "factory" production of such StarChip probes to study distant planets, and our Earth as well. Tiny sensors will allow measurements of the magnetosphere and the state of the atmosphere, and at a cost of about a couple of tens of dollars, they can be sent flying in the thousands.