The image above, courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shows the CubeSat ASTERIA as it was being launched from the International Space Station in 2017.
The size of a briefcase, ASTERIA is part of a growing armada of tiny spacecraft being launched around the world and adding an increasingly important (and inexpensive) set of new tools for conducting Earth, space and exoplanet science.
ASTERIA, for instance, was designed to perform some of the complex tasks much larger space observatories use to study distant exoplanets outside our solar system. And a new paper soon to be published in the Astronomical Journal describes how ASTERIA (short for Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics) didn’t just demonstrate it could perform those tasks but went above and beyond, detecting the known exoplanet 55 Cancri e.
While it was not the first detection of that exoplanet — which orbits close to its host star 41 light years away — it was the first time that a CubeSat had measured the presence of an exoplanet, something done so far only by much more sophisticated space and ground telescopes.
“Detecting this exoplanet is exciting because it shows how these new technologies come together in a real ...