As if the International Space Station couldn't get any cooler, the Japanese segment of the orbiting outpost has launched a barrage of small satellites - known as "cubesats" - from their very own Cubesat Cannon!
Of course, the real name of the cubesat deployment system isn't quite as dramatic, but the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) adds a certain sci-fi flair to space station science.
ANALYSIS: Mysterious Missile Launch Seen From Space Station
The Japanese space station module, Kibo, is equipped with its own robotic arm and exterior platform that can be used to carry out experiments not only in microgravity, but also in the vacuum of space. It is with the robotic arm, with J-SSOD attached, that, on Nov. 19, three cubesats (one joint Japan/Vietnam Earth-imaging experiment and two NASA-sponsored missions) were launched with the help of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins.
Via Kibo's airlock, the exposed JEM platform can be accessed, and the pre-prepared, spring-loaded J-SSOD could be attached and sent to the space station's exterior where the robotic arm attached itself to become a cubesat launcher. The system was previously tested in October 2012, launching five cubesats.
Wakata and Hopkins arrived at the station as members of the Expedition 38 crew on Nov. 7.
Per the JAXA project website:
"JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) is a mechanism for deploying small satellites designed in accordance with CubeSat design specification (10cm×10cm×10cm) that transfers the satellites from the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo's airlock to space environment and releases them on orbit."
PHOTOS: An Awe-Inspiring Space Station Odyssey
In a Twitter update by Wakata on Nov. 19, a photo of the three satellites was posted (below) along with a message saying that he had worked with the Tsukuba Space Center team to launch them (original Japanese language tweet).