LITTLETON, Colo (CBS4) Cube Satellites are the fastest growing segment of the satellite industry. Universities often use the shoebox-sized satellite to launch small experiments inside bigger missions. The CubeSats, however, could soon launch on historic space exploration missions.

The satellites’ compact size significantly reduces the cost of space travel, but it also presents challenges. CubeSats can’t generate enough thrust to travel into deep space. Their small size also means there’s not enough surface area for solar cells, which are needed to generate power.

NASA and Deep Space Industries have awarded a Colorado aerospace company $7 Million to provide solutions for those problems.

(credit ExoTerra)

“We are going to become the first private company that has sent a (cube) satellite beyond the orbit of the moon,” says ExoTerra President Mike VanWoerkom.

Engineers at the Littleton-based company are now designing technology to do just that. They have already developed a thruster, the size of a hockey puck. It uses electromagnetic fields to provide a high efficiency propulsion system.

“It’s enough to fly out us out of earth orbit,” says VanWoerkom.

ExoTerra is also developing a deployable panel to collect solar energy.

(credit CBS)

“I’m working on the design on how they’re stowed and how they will deploy and fan out once they get up into space,” said Dina Poncia, a mechanical engineer working on the project.

Getting a CubeSat outside of Earth’s orbit would allow scientists at Deep Space Industries to study what asteroids are made of for future exploration.

If successful, the mission will also have a longterm impact on the future of space flight.

(credit CBS)

“What we’re doing is trying to reduce that costs of spacecraft and space flight by reducing the size of each of these satellites,” says VanWoerkom.

Exoterra’s goal is to launch the cube satellite in deep space in 2019.