PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The Star-Planet Activity Research CubeSat [SPARCS] is the newest small space telescope being built at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration.

"It's a small spacecraft that houses a telescope and ultraviolet camera," said Evgenya Shkolnik, Principal Investigator for SPARCS.

[VIDEO: ASU wants to launch new small space telescope in 2021]

The purpose of the spacecraft is to see how habitable the planets are.

"[The] idea is to fly it up in space and orbit the earth and stare at stars that have planets around them," said Shkolnik. "We have to know if these planets can have life, but in order to have surface life [we] must have an atmosphere."

What SPARCS will focus on are m-type stars. Shkolnik described them.

"They [m-type stars] are about 1/2 a solar mass smaller, but make up 75% of all stars in our galaxy," she said.

Researchers plan to monitor ultraviolet ray emissions. Shkolnik says the ultraviolet radiation can be damaging to a planetary atmosphere.

They've created a three-dimensional printed prototype of the spacecraft, which contains a telescope, camera and computer. Development and testing of SPARCS are all happening at ASU. The team has been working on this mission for about a year and a half.

"Our goal is to be ready for launch at the end of 2021," said Shkolnik.

Once launched, it will orbit for a couple of years.


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