Zac Manchester, a graduate student in Aerospace Engineering at Cornell, says there's another way to get into orbit: a NASA program called ELaNA that offers lifts to DIY projects from universities. Manchester's project, called KickSat, aims to put 1,000 tiny satellites into orbit all at once. Called Sprites, each is no bigger than two postage stamps side by side. "Think of it as a shrunken Sputnik," he says.
"100 of our Sprites can fit inside one CubeSat," he explains. "If it costs $100,000 to put a CubeSat into orbit, then that's just $1,000 per Sprite." At that price, a hobbyists can afford to buy one, he says. A high school class can afford one. "It's really broadening satellites to a whole new audience."
Each Sprite has solar cells, a radio transceiver, sensors, and a computer memory. Each will be able to transmit a short message--its' owner's initials, for example. Future Sprites could include sensors and cameras.
Like most other do-it-yourself satellites, the Sprites will occupy so low an orbit that after about two weeks, they will fall back into the atmosphere from inertia and be incinerated, leaving no trace of space debris behind.
They're not just cute. They're clean.