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Satellites for the Rest of Us

Until now, one corner of the tech world had missed the trend toward miniaturization: the satellite industry. The average weight for the 21 commercial satellites launched so far in 2009 is 257,000 pounds, says the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee. But this trend could shift if a new breed of micro-satellite takes off. NASA researchers have launched more than 50 CubeSats over the past few years: 7 lb. satellites the size of a half-gallon container, with price tags as low as $250,000 each. Now the agency is focusing on launching these micros in "constellations"—groupings of three or more. "The technology is hitting its stride," says Andrew Kalman, a consulting professor at Stanford and CEO of Pumpkin, a San Francisco developer of an early CubeSat. CubeSat constellations, Kalman says, could allow insurers to monitor natural disasters or energy companies to track oil-rig output across the globe.
Foust is chief of BusinessWeek's Atlanta bureau.

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