I've long been writing about the microspace revolution: the gradual supplementation and even replacement of large satellites by increasingly smaller craft, enabled both by miniaturization and by new ways of thinking about space. Technology and thinking have to advance hand in hand for a revolution to take hold. After several false starts, this one is on its way, enabled in large part by the CubeSat, a satellite "bus" or frame 10 centimeters square.
This NBC News Report covers some of the recent developments. A "space agency" is no longer authomatically defined as a large government organization: it can be a university or a high school group with a CubeSat kit costing in the low tens of thousands of dollars and some ingenuity. Commercially available electronics, as in smartphones, are one element being put to use: NASA has already flown a satellite with a smartphone component as the on-board computer.
No, microsatellites and nanosatellites (CubeSats are the latter) can't do everything. They do not yet have the ability to form precise "virtual apertures" for radar and communications uses. But what they can do is amazing, and it's only going to grow.
Image: NASA CubeSat. This one is closed up for launch: after deployment, CubeSats can unfold antrennas, solar cells, or even solar sails.
NASA Initiative to build educational CubeSats.