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Capstone spacecraft orbiting the moon
ACS3 solar sail

Small Spacecraft Technology

The Small Spacecraft Technology program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, expands the ability to execute unique missions through rapid development and demonstration of capabilities for small spacecraft applicable to exploration, science and the commercial space sector.

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Small Satellite Missions Blog

Visit the blog for the latest updates on the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System Mission!

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A small spacecraft in Earth orbit deploys solar sail
Animation of NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System unfurling the sail in low Earth orbit.
Credit: NASA

Setting Sail to Travel Through Space:
5 Things to Know about our New Mission

1. Sailing on Sunshine

Solar sails use the pressure of sunlight for propulsion much like sailboats harness the wind, eliminating the need for rocket fuel after the spacecraft has launched. If all goes according to plan, this technology demonstration will help us test how the solar sail shape and design work in different orbits.

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Credit: NASA

Technology Demonstrations

Current Missions

solar sail

Advanced Composite Solar Sail System

NASA is developing new deployable structures and materials technologies for solar sail propulsion systems destined for future low-cost deep space missions. The mission uses composite materials in its novel, lightweight booms that deploy from a CubeSat. ACS3 launched on April 23, 2024, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in Māhia, New Zealand.

The capstone spacecraft with solar panels open on either side is lit on one side by the sun which is peeking out in the background from behind the darkened Earth.


A microwave oven–sized CubeSat weighing just 55 pounds is the first spacecraft to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit as part of NASA’s CAPSTONE mission. CAPSTONE launched on June 28, 2022 aboard a Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. CAPSTONE entered lunar orbit in November 2022.

CubeSat Laser Infrared CrosslinK

CubeSat Laser Infrared CrosslinK

The CLICK mission will demonstrate technology to advance the state of the art in communications between small spacecraft as well as the capability to gauge their relative distance and location. CLICK is comprised of two sequential missions. CLICK A launched on July 14, 2022 aboard SpaceX's 25th Commercial Resupply Service (CRS-25) mission to the International Space Station. The CLICK B/C launch is anticipated no earlier than August 2025.



NASA is funding designers of small spacecraft at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, to develop a technology demonstration of an evolutionary alternative to the CubeSat standard that maintains the benefits of that platform while overcoming key limitations. DiskSat is a plate-shaped satellite 40 inches in diameter and an inch thick that could offer more power and surface area for instruments, providing more opportunities for NASA to expand upon target mission objectives for small spacecraft. This first DiskSat demonstration is anticipated to launch no earlier than April 2026.

Pathfinder Technology  Demonstrator

Pathfinder Technology  Demonstrator

This series of technology demonstrations will benefit future missions by demonstrating the operation of new subsystem technologies on orbit. These include propulsion systems that provide the capability to maneuver small science platforms; novel technologies to generate more electrical power for deep space small spacecraft missions; and laser communications systems that will greatly increase the amount of data that can be transmitted from the spacecraft to the ground. PTD-4 and PTD-5 are anticipated to launch no earlier than June 2024.

engineer with a starling cubesat in lab


NASA’s Starling mission is advancing the readiness of various technologies for cooperative groups of spacecraft – also known as distributed missions, clusters, or swarms. Starling will demonstrate technologies to enable multipoint science data collection by several small spacecraft flying in swarms. The six-month mission will use four CubeSats in low-Earth orbit to test four technologies that let spacecraft operate in a synchronized manner without resources from the ground. Starling launched July 17, 2023 from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand.