NASA defines CubeSats as a class of nanosatellites that use a standard size and form factor.
The standard CubeSat size uses a “one unit” or “1U” measuring 10x10x10 cms and is extendable to larger sizes; 1.5, 2, 3, 6 and even 12U.
CubeSats were originally developed in 1999 by California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) and Stanford University to provide a platform for education and space exploration.
The development of CubeSats has advanced into its own industry with government, industry and academia collaborating for ever increasing capabilities. CubeSats now provide a cost effective platform for science investigations, new technology demonstrations and advanced mission concepts using constellations, swarms disaggregated systems.
CubeSats 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.
There are some design challenges with CubeSats, however. The electronics are smaller and are therefore more sensitive to radiation. Because they are small, they cannot carry large payloads with them. Their low cost also means they are generally designed to last only a few weeks, months or years before ceasing operations (and for those in low Earth orbit, falling back into the atmosphere.)
CubeSats are miniature satellites that have been used exclusively in low Earth orbit for 15 years, and are now being used for interplanetary missions as well. In the beginning, they were commonly used in low Earth orbit for applications such as remote sensing or communications.
Most observers feel the space industry is moving toward a future with large constellations of small satellites capable of providing all types of services in large geographical areas or across the globe. This trend in turn implies new challenges for satellite coordination and management.
Some solutions will help optimize coordination between CubeSats in the same constellation so that satellites are able to communicate with each other for different purposes.
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.