When we find out that this or that space agency has built a satellite to send into space, we usually think that this task required a lot of effort. big budget. While we may be right, not all satellites need to cost millions of euros. There are less ambitious projects that are really cheap.

A group of students at Brown University, in the United States, thought of taking the concept of “cheap” to the extreme. And as if that weren’t enough, he not only managed to build a fully functional satellite, but also tackled a growing and complex problem: space junk. Let’s take a look at his interesting work.

Designed by students, launched by SpaceX

SBUDNIC was born in 2021 as a project between the Brown School of Engineering and the Italian National Research Council. The goal? Build a cheap satellite to launch aboard a space ship in 12 months. Thus, the students put their hands to work to meet the established deadlines.

Unlike the resources that private companies or space agencies have, project members had to be able to design, build and test a satellite capable of operating in outer space. All this with materials purchased at hardware stores and online stores like Amazon, which included a 20 euro CPU and 48 Energizer AA batteries.


The university allowed the use of a 3D printer to build the drag sail, a Kapton polyimide film that it added to the satellite to help it reenter earth. The satellite was ready on time and successfully passed SpaceX and NASA’s demanding launch requirements.

Finally, the brainchild of this group of students traveled into space inside a larger satellite, the D-Orbit, and began orbiting Earth as expected. Now, data from the Air Force Space Command indicates that the satellite has accomplished its mission and that it is descending thanks to the built-in drag sail.

This element, key to combating space junk, was deployed some 520 kilometers, well above the orbit of the International Space Station. Now, almost a year later, he’s 470 kilometers over the land. Interestingly, the other devices deployed alongside it continue to orbit at around 500 kilometers.

From the Brown School of Engineering they estimate that SBUDNIC will complete its re-entry in five years, a substantial improvement compared to the 25 or 27 years that were estimated without the dragsail. This solution, they explain, could be adopted by other actors who launch small satellites and thus considerably reduce space debris.

Images: Marco Cruz (from Brown University)

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