The International Aeronautical Federation (IAF), a collection of space researchers, scientists and industry professionals from around the world, is planning to launch a clutch of 50 small spacecraft to honor the 50th anniversary of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite.
Supported by Russia's Federal Space Agency and the commercial space transportation firm Arianespace, the IAF hopes to fly a single 1-kilogram nanosatellite from each of its 50 member nations by 2007 to commemorate Russia's historic launch of Sputnik and the space age it introduced.
According to preliminary plans, the soda can-sized nanosatellites will be carried as an extra payload aboard an Arianespace rocket. Each satellite is expected to have a mission lifetime of about two years and will be controlled by independent researchers at universities and other organizations.
"I think this is very important for international cooperation and it's a nice occasion to celebrate the Sputnik launch," said Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall in a telephone interview.
On Oct. 4, 1957, Russia - then the Soviet Union - wowed the world with the launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite a 184-pound (84-kilogram) sphere about 2 feet (0.6 meters) in diameter. The first man-made object launched into space, Sputnik ushered in a space race that pushed NASA to send humans to the moon 12 years later.
Today, satellite technology plays a role in almost every facet of life, providing services that range from military and research operations to satellite television, telephone communications and personal global positioning needs.
Arianespace rockets, particularly the Ariane 4 and Ariane 5, are capable of launching smaller spacecraft in the auxiliary payload adapter that connects the launch vehicle with larger satellite payloads.
Le Gall said Arianespace has already orbited 40 nanosatellites in a single launch, and that adding 10 more seems fitting for Sputnik's 50th anniversary.