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A CubeSat is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that is made up of multiples of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm cubic units.

The first CubeSats were launched in June 2003 on a Rockot launch vehicle. Now more than a 1,000 are actively in orbit.

A CubeSat is considered a nanosatellite. They have been used exclusively in low Earth orbit for 15 years, and are now being used for interplanetary missions as well.

Having initially been developed as educational tools, CubeSats are increasingly being put to active use in orbit for technology demonstration, scientific studies and even commercial purposes. And just like typical satellites, they are custom built to fulfil the specific requirements of their mission.

CubeSats were made possible by the ongoing miniaturization of electronics, which allows instruments such as cameras to ride into orbit at a fraction of the size of what was required at the beginning of the Space Age in the 1960s.

Peep inside a CubeSat and you’ll spot off-the-shelf circuitry in the familiar form of microprocessors and modem ports, and other microchip devices typically used in cell phones, digital cameras and hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation units.

There are considerable advantages of modern CubeSats over conventional satellites – especially considering a large number of services can now be provided from space. Besides being more affordable and having shorter development times, CubeSats provide more up-to-date technology and provide greater data security.

CubeSats also reduce launch costs in two fundamental ways. They don’t weigh that much, which means a rocket doesn’t need a lot of fuel to heft them. In most cases, they also share a rocket with a larger satellite, making it possible to get to space on the coattails of the heavier payload.

Apart from their size and cost, the biggest advantage of a nanosatellite is the short time period required to develop each model. An average-sized or large satellite requires between 5 and 15 years to identify the need and place it in the right orbit under normal parameters.

So what are the implications of this? Well, between the start and end of operations, needs may well have changed, which means that the initially planned uses are no longer market-appropriate. What’s more, telecommunications technologies are constantly changing and being updated, which means that conventional satellites eventually end up operating with 15-year-old technologies.

It is impossible to constantly update large satellites, which means that they cannot be modified even when a market or technology opportunity arises.

Want to learn more? Tonex offers Introductions to CubeSat, a 2-day course covering the basic concepts and processes for CubeSat analysis, design and developments. Participants will learn about the CubeSats or miniature satellites that have been used exclusively in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and can be used for exploring and interplanetary missions. 

Please contact us for more information.

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