As the sun rises in the Mojave Desert in California, the Garvey Spacecraft Corporation's Prospector P-18D rocket is positioned for launch with the RUBICS-1 payload on a high-altitude, suborbital flight. The rocket will carry four satellites made from four-inch cube sections.
Collectively known as CubeSats, the satellites will record shock, vibrations and heat inside the rocket. They will not be released during the test flight, but the results will be used to prove or strengthen their designs before they are carried into orbit in 2014 on a much larger rocket. A new, lightweight carrier is also being tested for use on future missions to deploy the small spacecraft. The flight also is being watched closely as a model for trying out new or off-the-shelf technologies quickly before putting them in the pipeline for use on NASA's largest launchers. Built by several different organizations, including a university, a NASA field center and a high school, the spacecraft are four-inch cubes designed to fly on their own eventually, but will remain firmly attached to the rocket during the upcoming mission. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/smallsats/elana/cubesatlaunchpreview.html Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis