As part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative, the research satellite was sent aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Wednesday.

Called the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS), the probe will expose about 100 different materials samples to the space environment for more than 200 days.

The beauty of CubeSats is their versatility. Because they are relatively inexpensive to build and deploy, scientists could conceivably launch multiple spacecraft for multi-point sampling -- a capability currently not available with single planetary probes.

Using the momentum transferred from solar photons as they strike a large, thin, reflective sail would allow a spacecraft to accelerate continuously using only the sun's energy.

NASA is considering the use of solar sails on future exploration mission secondary payloads and data from this mission will advance understanding of this form of propulsion, the US space agency said in a statement.


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