MIT is launching satellites about the size of a volleyball into space to see if they could one day help astronomers map the skies.The first satellite in the SPHERES project (which stands for Synchronized Position Hold Engage Re-orient Experimental Satellites) went up into space on a Russian rocket this week and is expected to arrive at the International Space Station around April 28. Two others will join it before the end of the year.
The ultimate goal of the project is to create a string of small satellites that can obtain data about the universe and shuttle it down to Earth. The satellites will keep track of each other and change their position relative to each other through radio links. The satellites could also perform other tasks.
Meanwhile, Stanford is working on inexpensive satellites that are about the same size. The lower costs have allowed Colombia and Romania, not to mention some high school students, to put satellites into orbit.