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Russian cosmonauts pause in spacewalk to launch a satellite, simply by dropping it

Russian Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov's view of the launch of a nano-satellite while on spacewalk outside the ISS, via Twitter.

Russian Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov's view of the launch of a nano-satellite while on spacewalk outside the ISS, via Twitter.

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, August 20, 2014, 6:20 PM - For some, launching a satellite into orbit involves attaching it to the top of a very tall rocket and generating enough fiery thrust to achieve escape velocity and sufficient velocity to keep it going around the planet, but if you're a Russian Cosmonaut named Oleg Artemyev, you just open your hands and let it go*.

That's what happened on Monday, August 18, when Artemyev and fellow Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov were out on a 5+ hour spacewalk.

Taking the Peruvian Earth-observing nano-satellite, Chasqui 1, in gloved-hand, Artemyev took careful aim and then sent the tiny spacecraft on its way. In the process, the two of them captured some incredible photos of the release.

Nano-satellites are the newest way to get your technology into orbit. At just a tiny fraction of the size, and thus an equally tiny fraction of the cost of your 'standard' satellite, these are also cheap and easy to deploy, whether you're packing dozens of them inside the same rocket for launch, or just sending them up in a cargo delivery to the ISS and letting an astronaut or cosmonaut give them a quick toss out of an airlock*. This kind of satellite effectively opens up access to low-Earth orbit for nearly everyone who's interested in conducting science from orbit, especially when you consider the CubeSat design that's becoming the standard. It can also open up the field to more 'high risk' missions that might not see development for large, multi-million dollar satellites.

There are always concerns for adding more potential space debris into orbit, but nanosats are far easier to deal with, as they're often built with a specific short-term mission length in mind and are quickly and easily de-orbited after the mission is over. Overall, they will help with the space junk problem, rather than adding to it. Also, although nothing has come of plans just yet, these tiny satellites may end up leading the charge to clean up the junk that's floating around our planet.

*Okay, there was more to it than that, including the rocket launch of the cargo vessel that delivered the satellite to the ISS and the careful planning to put it into the right orbit, but still... 

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