What Is A CubeSat?

(Page excerpted from WIkipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CubeSat)

A CubeSat is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that usually has a volume of exactly one liter (10 cm cube), has a mass of no more than 1.33 kilograms,[1] and typically uses commercial off-the-shelf components for its electronics.

1U cubesat structure without outer skin

1U cubesat structure without outer skin

Beginning in 1999, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and Stanford University developed the CubeSat specifications to help universities worldwide to perform space science and exploration.

The majority of development comes from academia, but several companies have built CubeSats, including large-satellite-maker Boeing. The CubeSat format is also popular with amateur radio satellite builders.

The CubeSat specification accomplishes several high-level goals. Simplification of the satellite’s infrastructure makes it possible to design and produce a workable satellite at low cost. Encapsulation of the launcher-payload interface takes away the prohibitive amount of managerial work that would previously be required for mating a piggyback satellite with its launcher. Unification among payloads and launchers enables quick exchanges of payloads and utilization of launch opportunities on short notice.

The term “CubeSat” was coined to denote nano-satellites that adhere to the standards described in the CubeSat design specification. Cal Poly published the standard in an effort led by aerospace engineering professor Jordi Puig-Suari.[2] Bob Twiggs, from the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics at Stanford University, and currently on the space science faculty at Morehead State University in Kentucky, has contributed to the CubeSat community.[3] His efforts have focused on CubeSats from educational institutions.[4] The specification does not apply to other cube-like nano-satellites such as the NASA “MEPSI” nano-satellite, which is slightly larger than a CubeSat.

In 2004, with their relatively small size, CubeSats could each be made and launched for an estimated $65,000–$80,000.[2] This price tag, far lower than most satellite launches, has made CubeSat a viable option for schools and universities across the world. Because of this, a large number of universities and some companies and government organizations around the world are developing CubeSats — between 40 and 50 universities in 2004, Cal Poly reported.[2]

The standard 10×10×10 cm basic CubeSat is often called a “1U” CubeSat meaning one unit. CubeSats are scalable along only one axis, by 1U increments. CubeSats such as a “2U” CubeSat (20×10×10 cm) and a “3U” CubeSat (30×10×10 cm) have been both built and launched.

This photo shows the Norwegian student satellite NCUBE2 ready for shipment to the Netherlands for integration with the ESA student satellite SSETI-Express. Permission to use photo has been granted by the photographer, Bjørn Pedersen, NTNU.

Since CubeSats are all 10×10 cm (regardless of length) they can all be launched and deployed using a common deployment system. CubeSats are typically launched and deployed from a mechanism called a Poly-PicoSatellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD), also developed and built by Cal Poly.[5] P-PODs are mounted to a launch vehicle and carry CubeSats into orbit and deploy them once the proper signal is received from the launch vehicle. P-PODs have deployed over 90% of all CubeSats launched to date (including un-successful launches), and 100% of all CubeSats launched since 2006. The P-POD Mk III has capacity for three 1U CubeSats. Since three 1U CubeSats are exactly the same size as one 3U CubeSat, and two 1U CubeSats are the same size as one 2U CubeSat, the P-POD can deploy 1U, 2U, or 3U CubeSats in any combination up to a maximum volume of 3U.[6]

CubeSat forms a cost-effective independent means of getting a payload into orbit.[2] Most CubeSats carry one or two scientific instruments as their primary mission payload. Several companies and research institutes offer regular launch opportunities in clusters of several cubes. ISC Kosmotras and Eurokot are two companies that offer such services.


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  2. ^ a b c d Leonard David (2004). “Cubesats: Tiny Spacecraft, Huge Payoffs”. Space.com. Retrieved 2008-12-07.

  3. ^ Rob Goldsmith (October 6, 2009). “Satellite pioneer joins Morehead State’s space science faculty”. Space Fellowship. Retrieved 2010-09-20.

  4. ^ a b Leonard David (2006). “CubeSat losses spur new development”. Space.com. Retrieved 2008-12-11.

  5. ^ “Educational Payload on the Vega Maiden Flight – Call For CubeSat Proposals”. European Space Agency. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-07.

  6. ^ Matthew Richard Crook (2009). “NPS CubeSat Launcher Design, Process And Requirements”. Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved 2009-12-30.

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  8. ^ “Cubist Movement”. Space News. 2012-08-13. p. 30. “When professors Jordi Puig-Suari of California Polytechnic State University and Bob Twiggs of Stanford University invented the cubesat a little more than a decade ago, they never imagined that the tiny satellites would be adopted by universities, companies and government agencies around the world. They simply wanted to design a spacecraft with capabilities similar to Sputnik that graduate student could design, build, test and operate. For size, the professors settled on a 10-centimeter cube because it was large enough to accommodate a basic communications payload, solar panels and a battery.”

  9. ^ “EUROCKOT Successfully Launches MOM – Rockot hits different Orbits”. Eurockot Launch Services. Retrieved 2010-07-26.

  10. ^ a b Tariq Malik (2005). “Europe’s Student-Built Satellite Rockets into Space”. Space.com. Retrieved 2010-07-30.

  11. ^ Stephen Clark (2009). “Commercial launch of SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket a success”. Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2010-07-13.

  12. ^ Stephen Clark (2006). “Russian rocket fails – 18 satellites destroyed”. SpaceFlight Now. Retrieved 2008-12-03.

  13. ^ Tariq Malik (2006). “Report: Dnepr Rocket Crashes Shortly After Launch”. Space.com. Retrieved 2006-07-27.

  14. ^ Leonard David (2006). “Recent CubeSat Losses Spur Renewed Development”. Space.com. Retrieved 2010-07-13.

  15. ^ “Dnepr LV with 14 satellites on board launched”. Space Fellowship. 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-04.

  16. ^ Jonathan Brown; Riki Munakata (2008). “Dnepr 2 Satellite Identification and the Mk.III P-POD”. California Polytechnic State University. Retrieved 2010-07-30.

  17. ^ “The ARRL Letter”. American Radio Relay League. 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-30.

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  19. ^ “SpaceX Sets August 2 for Falcon 1 launch”. Reuters. 2008-08-02. Retrieved 2008-12-24.

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  21. ^ NASA (October 2011). “ELaNA-3: CubeSat ELaNa III Launch on NPP Mission”. National Aeronautic and Space Administration. Retrieved June 14, 2012.

  22. ^ Space.com (Sep 2012). “Air Force Launches Secret Spy Satellite NROL-36″. Space.com. Retrieved March 21, 2013.

  23. ^ NRO (June 2012). “NROL-36 Features Auxiliary Payloads”. National Reconnaissance Office. Retrieved March 21, 2013.

  24. ^ Kuniaki Shiraki (March 2, 2011). “「きぼう」からの小型衛星放出に係る技術検証について” [On Technical Verification of Releasing Small Satellites from “Kibo”] (in Japanese). JAXA. Retrieved March 4, 2011.

  25. ^ Mitsumasa Takahashi (June 15, 2011). “「きぼう」からの小型衛星放出実証ミッションに係る搭載小型衛星の選定結果について”. JAXA. Retrieved June 18, 2011.

  26. ^ “「きぼう」日本実験棟からの小型衛星放出ミッション” (in Japanese). JAXA. October 5, 2012. Retrieved December 1, 2012.

  27. ^ “Antares Test Launch “A-ONE Mission” Overview Briefing”. Orbital Sciences. 17 April 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2013.

  28. ^ “Cosmogia Dove – 1 Orbital Debris Assessment Report”. Cosmogia. 1 January 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2013.

  29. ^ Cosmiac.org – Trailblazer

  30. ^ Bruce Dorminey (November 28, 2012). “First Kickstarter Funded Satellites To Launch In 2013″. Forbes. Retrieved 2013-11-30.

  31. ^ “QB50″. Von Karman Institute. Retrieved 2009-11-06.

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