The first artificial satellite that humanity put in space was a Soviet one, was 83.6kg and formed by an aluminum ball of 58 centimeters in diameter and four antennas of 2.4 and 2.9 meters. The Sputnik 1 took over on October 4, 1957 the conquest of space. From that moment on, satellites did nothing but increase in number: bigger, more powerful and with more tools. And also much more expensive.
For the students, both the price and the complexity of the devices gave a problem when developing their own models, assembling and testing them. But at the end of the 90s a Catalan professor of the Polytechnic University of California, Jordi Puig-Sauri, and the one of the University of Stanford, Robert «Bob» Twiggs came up with a solution: cubic satellites of 10 cm for these academic purposes. Cheaper and simpler than the traditional ones. The first was launched successfully in 2003.
“We closely monitor the evolution of the nanosatellites, and especially the companies in Silicon Valley that have been developing this technology for commercial purposes,” explains Guillermo Valenzuela, CEO and co-founder of Aistech Space.
Based in Porto do Molle, Nigrán, moved in 2016 from Barcelona by the support of the Xunta, his company is dedicated to the development of cubesats for civil use. In 2015 the company was born, after a year of study, in which they discovered a niche market in aircraft tracking, bidirectional communication in remote areas and the screenshooting of infrared and thermal images from space.
The new space in front of the old space
The main revolution that brings this new types of satellites, which belong to the sector of the coined new term ´new space,´ is due to their low cost. Smaller devices and therefore easier to put into orbit. “Twenty years ago it was absolutely unthinkable for an small company of 14 people like ours even to consider the launching of a satellite into space,” says Valenzuela. “It was only up to Boeing, Airbus or Thales.”
“A nanosatellite is unique because of the size and because of the systems it has contained in it and they are the same as the ones inside a big satellite,” he explains. The difference is in redundancy and power, which generates a different work structure. While an old space satellite like the Galileo carries four clocks and two computers, only in case of flight failure, in a nanosatellite, the redundancy we get it from the nanosatellite that flies closeby.
Hence the need to have a constellation in the airspace, since failure rate is about 3-4%. “For us it will be a problem because we will not be able to bill clients with those satellites that expire early, but it is not the same to lose 3 nanosatellites than a single satellite of 500 million euros that has a financial return of 15 years.”