They are called CubeSats. Packed with microelectronics, these ultra-small spacecraft can fly in formation, dock with each other, carry out science duties, inspect other satellites, scan our planet—and might be used to create an actual Earth-orbiting game of “Space Pong.”

As the name implies, a CubeSat is a cube-shaped satellite having the diminutive dimensions of 4x4x4 inches (10x10x10 centimeters). You can hold one in the palm of your hand. They weigh roughly a couple of pounds (one-kilogram). In some cases, a CubeSat can be comprised of multiple cubes to build a larger, but still very small satellite.

It is university graduate and undergraduate students who are mainly responsible cranking out CubeSats for educational and basic research purposes.

For example, 14 CubeSats from 10 different universities and one private company will take part in an upcoming CubeSat launch coordinated by California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. They will be hauled into space onboard a Russian/Ukrainian launch-for-hire Dnepr booster, then ejected like peas in a pod. In fact, the hardware used to that is called a P-POD, but stands for something less colloquial: Poly Picosat Orbital Deployer. Five P-PODs are to be utilized to buckshot the armada of CubeSats into space.

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