NASA has announced that in the next few years it will be launching colonies of E. coli into orbit to study how the bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics is affected by a lack of gravity. Though not as touching and momentous as the one way flight by Laika The Space Dog, the results of the mission may help astronauts of the future better address bacterial infections on long trips such as those to Mars.
Though the E. coli AntiMicrobial Satellite (EcAMSat) developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center and Stanford University School of Medicine is only about the size of a beefy tome (14.4″ x 8.9″ x 3.9″), it’s considered a pretty big nanosatellite that’s six times the size of a typical cubesat. The EcAMSat will be taking off as a secondary payload on an as yet unnamed flight in the next few coming years.
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It will be the first NASA mission in the “6U” configuration, with six times the volume of a single cubesat unit (“1U”). Cubesats belong to a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. The cube-shaped satellites measure about four inches on each side, have a volume of about one quart, and weigh less than three pounds.
The 6U format enhances nanosatellite applicability for space missions by providing more power and volume for instruments, avionics, actuators and propulsion. The larger format improves payload accommodation and extends mission duration capabilities, while still retaining its ability to be launched as a secondary payload.