Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have released five micro satellites into space. The satellites, three of which were made by Japanese companies and universities, and the remaining two by the U.S, were released on Thursday. They have been tasked with various missions, including taking pictures of earth. One, made by The Fukuoka Institute of Technology, contained a blinking light-emitting diode to send Morse code messages back to earth.
In the first experiment of its kind, the satellites were launched into space using a robotic arm. The Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who has been on the ISS for the past three months, was involved in the launch. The satellites were transported to the space station back in July by Japan’s unmanned cargo carrier, Kounotori.
At the Fukuoka Institute of Technology, Japanese students involved in the development of one of the satellites shouted for joy after its successful release. “We are relieved,” said Professor Takushi Tanaka, who led the development team. “It’s out in space without a hitch.”
The micro satellites were made small enough to be held in the palm of the hand. It is thought that the low cost of making such tiny satellites, compared to that of creating conventional-sized ones, is what has caught the attention of companies and universities, who are now interested in making their own for experimental and business purposes.
The launch happened as concerns grow over the safety of satellites in orbit. Recently, ISS plans to change its orbit were revealed after it narrowly avoided being hit by the remains of a Russian satellite and an Indian rocket. In a recent article for the Guardian, astrophysicist Stuart Clark also wrote of the dangers of space debris, explaining that being hit by a ‘sugar-cube’ of it would be the equivalent of standing next to an exploding grenade. There are currently around 21,000 pieces of debris orbiting the earth.
The recently launched satellites are set to orbit earth for just over 3 months, after which they are said to disintegrate when entering the atmosphere. The world’s first experiment in sending morse code from space will take place next month.
Sources include: House of Japan, News on Japan, NHK, Japan Times, BBC News
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