Recently, Breakthrough Starshot, a multi-faceted program that was designed to develop and launch interstellar space missions, just successfully flew its first spacecraft and it’s the smallest that has ever been launched!
Last June 23rd, the world’s smallest fully functional space probes that were built on a single circuit board were able to achieve Low Earth Orbit, carrying along with them OHB System AG’s ‘Max Valier’ and ‘Venta’ satellites. The prototype was on 3.5 x 3.5 centimeter chips that weigh only around 4 grams but was able to contain solar panels, computers, sensors and even radios! These “carriers” or space vehicles is the world’s next step in spacecraft miniaturization that can help contribute to the development of centimeter- and gram-scale “StarChips” that is being envisioned by the Breakthrough Starshot project.
The Sprite is the idea of Breakthrough Starshot’s Zac Manchester, who created a Kickstarter campaign in 2011 called “KickSat”. There, he was able to raise the first funds to develop the concept of Sprites. The Sprites were brought to live by researchers at Cornell University and was transported into space as secondary payloads by the Max Valier and Venta satellites. Venta Satellites were built by the Bremen-based OHB System AG, who has generously assisted them and made the mission possible.
Source: Kickstarter, KickSat
The Sprites will remain intact to the satellites. The communications that are received from the mission show that the Sprite system is performing as designed. The spacecraft are connected with ground stations in California and New York via radio communication. They are also connected with amateur radio enthusiasts around the world.
This mission is designed to test how well the electronics of the Sprites in orbit. It will also show the Sprite’s radio communication architecture.
Breakthrough Initiatives are long-term astronomical programs that explore the Universe and look for scientific evidence of life beyond our Earth. It is also a program that encourages public debate from a planetary perspective.
Breakthrough Starshot was announced on April 12, 2016, by Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking. It is a $100 million research and engineering program that aims to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled spacecraft that could fly at 20 percent of light speed. They also aim that in just over 20 years after their launch, to be able to capture images and other measurements of the exoplanet Proxima b and the other planets in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.