Rapid miniaturization of electronic devices, driven in recent years by the emergence of smartphones, has made many of the key components needed onboard aerospace systems available in very small, low-cost, and light-weight packages. This trend is behind the growing popularity of small consumer “drones,” as well as the recent emergence of the “ChipSat” concept – centimeter-scale spacecraft built with the same parts and processes used in the consumer electronics industry. This talk will focus on pushing the limits of size, mass, and capability in space systems. I will discuss the technical challenges associated with building and flying satellites at this size scale, along with several ongoing flight projects, including the crowd-funded KickSat missions to deploy over one hundred Sprite spacecraft in low-Earth orbit. I will also share some recent work on the Breakthrough Starshot project, which has the goal of sending small spacecraft to our nearest neighboring stars in the coming decades.
Zac Manchester is an Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University, founder of the KickSat project, and member of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee. He holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and a B.S. in applied physics from Cornell University. Zac was a postdoc in the Agile Robotics Lab at Harvard University and previously worked at NASA Ames Research Center and Analytical Graphics, Inc. He has led two CubeSat missions and developed hardware and software for many more. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics, control, and optimization, particularly with application to robotics and small spacecraft.