May 27, 2009

Mini Satellite, Big Payload

A 10 pound tiny satellite, shaped like a loaf of bread, called PharmaSat lifted off from a US Air Force four-stage Minotaur 1 rocket on May 5. The satellite will circle the Earth at 17,000 mph while carrying a micro-laboratory packed with sensors and optical systems.

The launch is hailed a the beginning of a revolution where the size and weight of spacecraft decline steadily, but retain much of the capabilities of its larger brethren.

PharmaSat is being launched to help NASA scientists better understand how medications work during space flights. Focusing on antifungal treatments, the microlab on board the satellite is designed to detect the growth, density and health of yeast cells and then send that data back to Earth for analysis. The satellite is also built to monitor the levels of pressure, temperature and acceleration that the yeast and the satellite experience while orbiting the globe. It also will prove that biological experiments can be conducted on sophisticated autonomous nanosatellites.