Currently, the barrier to using Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) is high cost. This is born mostly in the common launch procedures, with these being ground-launch rockets. The cost of a single such launch is on the order of $10 million. Interested parties can lower the cost by bundling many projects together in the one launch, but each of these projects then lose control of their orbital parameters.
The primary goal of the SASNOD project is to put a pico-satellite (weighing less than 1 kg) into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) for minimal cost with maximum control over the satelliteâs flight path. By providing the satellite owner control over the trajectory of the satellite while keeping per-satellite launch costs at competitive levels, novel satellite systems can be developed, experimented with, and implemented without an increase in cost due to atypical orbital requirements.
The target, full-system cost, including materials, legal, and zoning costs, is $10,000, which is comparable with existing solutions that do not give the flexibility the SASNOD project is to provide.
The launch procedure is divided into three parts.
- Balloon-powered ascension to an altitude of approximately 30 km (100 000 ft).
- Rocket launch from 30 km to the desired minimum altitude.
- Orbital insertion of the payload via a final rocket stage.
The satellite itself is specified to be less than 1 kilogram, however the experimental satellite is likely to be much smaller. The current leading model is a satellite-on-a-chip: a single integrated circuit that performs all of the computations and physics necessary for a functional satellite.
The SASNOD project is divided into four parts: design, simulation, construction, and execution. The first three are progressing concurrently. Design influences simulation, which influences construction and testing, which influences design.
The simulation is being built using the C programming language, to allow maximum compatibility with potential third-party software, and is licensed under the GNU Public License version 3.
Reducing the launch cost of pico-satellites by three orders of magnitude opens the door to a number of applications. Small businesses and research teams may own their own satellite that orbits the way they want, allowing for novel uses of existing hardware.
Additionally, SASNOD pushes weight-scaling of launch costs into the kilogram regime. Launching one satellite weighing one thousand kilograms will cost approximately as much as launching one thousand satellites weighing one kilogram each. A single large satellite performing a research function or acting as a telecommunications node must be able to function for an extended duration to justify costs. A swarm of smaller satellites that, in aggregate, performs the same functions as the large satellite is more robust against damage (e.g. a fatal collision for the large satellite takes it out of operation, whereas a fatal collision for one in the swarm merely slightly reduces the swarmâs capability), is easier to maintain (single satellites can be brought out of commission and replaced), and is cheaper to upgrade. An individual in the swarm need only function for a fraction of the time that the whole swarm is in operation.
Allowing for several small, independent launches of several satellites rather than a single launch of the same number also changes the nature of implementing swarms of small satellites. A launch failure only sacrifices one or a few of the satellites, rather than all of them.
More importantly, however, is that joint projects between several geographically-distributed groups can be executed in a geographically-distributed way. For example, space-weather research teams in Ethiopia, Brazil, the European Union, and the United States can all contribute to a single observational satellite network via independent launches of a few satellites in each of their regions. This also immediately provides satellites with varying orbital parameters to cover as much of the sky as possible, rather than having to remotely navigate satellites all launched together into the desired distributional pattern.
In these ways and more, Project SASNOD opens access to Low Earth Orbit to a much larger portion of humanity than ever before.