NASA has announced its latest New Millennium programme mission - the Nanosat Constellation Trailblazer (NCT) - to be launched as a secondary payload on an expendable launch vehicle in 2003.

The $23 million mission, the fifth of the programme, is designed to validate methods of operating several spacecraft as a system, and to validate eight new technologies, including communications, software and microelectronics.

The three octagonal-shaped highly miniaturised autonomous NCT craft will weigh 19kg (42lb) and measure 40cm (16in) across by 20cm high. They will be forerunners of planned constellation systems, including a proposed 100-spacecraft fleet which will monitor the effects of solar activity on the earth's environment.

The technologies to be validated include a miniature communications system using the global positioning system; software to operate the spacecraft automatically; a communications system using a quarter the voltage, half the power, that weighs 12 times less and is nine times smaller than now; microelectronics that use 20 times less power than at present; and a lithium ion power system.

Source: Flight International