Today, December 16th marks the 10 year anniversary of a significant event in the smallsat industry: the first launch of a Cubesat from a U.S.-based expendable launch vehicle.
GeneSat-1 was launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia – the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). It was the secondary payload on a four-stage Minotaur 1 rocket that was sending the primary payload, an Air Force TacSat-2 experimental satellite. (As an interesting aside, TacSat-2 was launched under the auspices of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office, which at that time was run by Dr. Peter Wegner who is now Spaceflight’s CTO.)
Weighing in at only 11 pounds, GeneSat-1 was built by NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA as a miniature laboratory in space. It was a groundbreaker in the field of astrobionics – technologies that support safe and effective human exploration in space. It carried bacteria that could be studied, to look at genetic changes due to prolonged exposure to radiation and zero gravity.
More importantly, GeneSat-1 represented the concept that a very small satellite could conduct significant science at a fraction of the cost of traditional missions, and in a much quicker timeframe. It proved the utility of smallsats and set the stage for many more U.S. launches.
Launch video of the Minotaur I launch of TacSat-2 and GeneSat-1:
(The airborne video was provided by a RocketCam™ system built by Ecliptic Enterprises, a vendor and partner of Spacelflight.)
In the last 10 years, more than 400 CubeSats have launched and there seems to be no end in sight. We’re looking forward to see the changes the next 10 years will bring!