International Space Station Opens Launch Pad for Tiny Satellites

Astronauts on the International Space Station have transformed their high-flying laboratory into a new kind of launch pad for tiny satellites in a bid to boost student interest and access to space.

This month, the space station's Expedition 33 crew launched five tiny Cubesats, each only a few inches wide, using a small satellite orbital deployer from Japan's space agency JAXA. They were the first Cubesat satellites ever launched from the International Space Station, coming 2 1/2 years after NASA announced the CubeSat program.

"This was a learning experience for everyone," said Andres Martinez, the NASA Ames project manager for one of the satellites.

The cubesats were launched from the station's Japanese Kibo laboratory on Oct. 4, which also marked the 55th anniversary of the world's first satellite launch in 1957 that placed Russia's Sputnik 1 in orbit and ushered in the Space Age. [Photos: Tiny Satellites Launch from Space Station]

"Fifty-five  years ago we launched the first satellite from Earth. Today we launched them from a spacecraft," space station commander Sunita Williams of NASA said on launch day to mark the moment. "Fifty years from now, I wonder where we'll be launching them from."

The JAXA satellite-deploying device arrived at the station aboard a Japanese cargo ship in July. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide placed the deployer, which is about the size of a small rabbit cage, into a small airlock in the Kibo lab. Then, the astronaut sealed the airlock, opened it up to space, and commanded the station's Kibo robotic armto pick up the deployer and bring it outside for satellite deployment.

All told, the procedure took only four hours of astronaut time – with no spacewalk required.

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