Miniaturized satellites, in Nature:06042412

A miniature satellite has arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), where it will take its first space flight in indoor comfort rather than in the harsh conditions outside the station.

Its inventors hope that the volleyball-sized probe will be the forerunner to a new generation of small satellites that can fly in formation, and possibly act as servicing robots for the ISS.

The probe arriving at the ISS this week is one of just three built by the SPHERES project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. The Synchronized Position Hold Engage Re-orient Experimental Satellite is designed to float in space while holding a precise position.

A flotilla of such satellites could eventually act as parts of a giant telescope, maintaining their position by communicating with each other using radio links, suggests David Miller, who leads the MIT team.