The Transporter-3 satellite launch by SpaceX on 13 January from Cape Canaveral also carried a small satellite from Delft into space. The DelfiPQ measures just 5 by 5 by 18 centimeters, making it one of the smallest satellites in the world. It was designed and built by Delft University of Technology satellite researchers Alessandra Menicucci, Stefano Speretta and Sevket Uludag to demonstrate that technology on such a small scale can actually function in space. On 14 January, contact was established.
“All onboard systems that ensure the satellite can function in space, such as antennas, altimeters and the power supply, are smaller than in a normal satellite,” explains researcher Uludag. “Therefore, we had to make everything ourselves: from circuit boards to micro-propulsion systems, from reflectors to communication systems.” The DelfiPQ still has to answer another important technical question: can such a small satellite be distinguished from a piece of space debris from Earth?
Swarms of small satellites are better able than today’s large satellites to observe Earth. They also cost much less, so it’s possible to launch dozens or even hundreds of them. By making observations from multiple locations and collecting and processing data together, they could play an important role in monitoring climate change and in superfast wireless broadband connections, among other things.
The DelfiPQ is the third TU Delft satellite to go into space. DelfiC3 was the first. This satellite has been in space for over 12.5 years and is still alive. Delfin3xt was launched in 2013. Contact has recently been re-established with this satellite.