In recent years there has been increased interest amateur aerospace engineering with more and more individuals thinking it might be fun to give it a try. The CubeSat, originally proposed in 1999, is simply a cubic satellite with each edge only being 10 cm long. They normally contain simple commercial electronics and weigh no more that 1.5 kilo each. Normally they get thrown out of space station or dropped off as part of the payload on a rocket. They can carry a wide variety of scientific equipment (although only one or two at a time) and are perfect both for people wanting to learn about a bit of engineering and also researchers who want to perform simple mass studies in an astrophysical environment.
Being in space is described as a low gravity environment and of course it is; but it isn’t the same low gravity as that near an asteroid. The magnitude of the gravity can be very similar to that of outer space as there always be some gravitational influences but near the asteroid the field is at least constant in direction. This leads, over time, to noticeably similar geological patterns as those on Earth and other planets. There are many questions which still require answers such as: What happens to broken off rocks and soil during asteroid mining? Will it clump and end up orbiting the asteroid, stick to a space suits material or just float down again. Will spacecraft properly anchor itself to an asteroid is is separation inevitable? Do bacteria and germinating seeds behave differently in directed milligravity to free space microgravity?
In order to study these effects the plan is to use slightly larger CubeSats of dimensions 10 × 10 × 34 cm3 which, by spinning, would be able to turn themselves into centrifuges. The idea of having an entire spacecraft spin to produce gravity has been around for a hundred years but is a lot more obtainable for a small cube then a large spaceship and when the only gravity required is minuscule rather than Earth-like. The wished for result is that directional milligravity will be able to offset the effects of muscle atrophy, bone weakening and immune system failure. Even if this is not the case the ability to produce the gravitational field similar to that of a kilometre wide asteroid will certainly help research a long way.