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A satellite the size of a loaf of bread has been launched by NASA as part of a series of wireless sensor experiments.

The Technology Educational Satellite, known as TechEdSat-6, was launched to the International Space Station on Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft and released into low-Earth orbit earlier this month to conduct a series of self-powered tests.

TechEdSat-6’s experiments will seek to expand the capabilities of wireless sensor networks for re-entry or ascent systems.

Carrying an updated version of the Exo-Brake parachute technology - an exo-atmospheric braking device - TechEdSat-6 will demonstrate controlled re-entry of small craft to return experiments safely from space, NASA has said.

“The Exo-Brake’s shape can be changed to vary the drag on the satellite,” commented Michelle Munk, NASA’s system capability lead for entry, descent and landing.

“With the help of high-fidelity simulations, we will demonstrate a low-cost, propellant-less method of returning small payloads quickly, and to fairly precise locations, for retrieval.”

The goal of the experiment is to return samples from space but also to develop the building blocks necessary for larger-scale systems that may enable small spacecraft to reach the surface of planets like Mars in the future.

TechEdSat-6 is the fourth satellite to carry an updated version of the Exo-Brake - a project funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development programme, NASA’s Ames Research Center and the Engineering and Safety Center.

The TechEdSat series is a collaborative endeavour between NASA employees and several universities, combining elements of science, technology, engineering and maths.

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