The International Space Station Has a ‘Space Cannon’ to Launch Cubesats

The International Space Station now has its own cannon, though it is called by the uninspiring name of the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer, It recently deployed a number of small satellites, called cubesats into low Earth orbit.

The J-SSOD is mounted on the Kibo Japanese module on the ISS. It is described as a “mechanism for deploying small satellites designed in accordance with cubeSat design specification.” cubesat is a small satellite with the dimensions of 10 CM X 10 CM by CM. The J-SSOD transfers cubesats from Kibo’s airlock into space and shoots it out into a 380 km to 420 elliptical orbit depending on the ISS altitude at the time.

Cubesats are designed to be simple, light weight, and durable. They are cheap enough for schools to develop them as experiments, since they are generally launched as secondary payload on a commercial rocket. Recently a Minotaur rocket launched 29 cubesats from NASA’s Wallops Island launch station, one of which was developed by High School students. The three cubesats that was launched by the J-SSOD were brought to the ISS by a Japanese cargo ship.

The International Space Station is designed to be an orbiting laboratory, using microgravity and other space conditions to conduct experiments in subjects ranging from biology to materials processing. But the addition of the J-SSOD adds the role of space port, at least of a sort, to the orbiting space facility. Originally, when President Reagan first proposed the space station, one of its roles had been envisioned as a satellite repair and deployment facility. Several redesigns and budget cuts later that function was removed. But thanks to the creation of the cubesat, something not envisioned in 1984 when the space station program was begun, the ISS is now launching satellites into low Earth orbit. It is an illustration of how just having a small foothold in space can lead to unexpected opportunities.

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