CubeSat – miniature satellites

A CubeSat (U-class spacecraft) is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that is made up of multiple cubic modules of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm size.

CubeSats are 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.  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 it’s 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 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.

NASA Ames launched its first CubeSat, GeneSat, in December 2006.  Since then Ames has launched 16 CubeSat spacecraft varying in size from 1U to 3U with an additional 12 CubeSats in development or awaiting launch.  Included in the list of CubeSat launches planned is the first true swarm, Edison Demonstration of Small Networks (EDSN), the student let TechEdSat-4, and Agency’s first 6U, EcAMSAT.

Currently, most CubeSats are being launched on decommissioned Russian rockets. Through companies like Eurokot and Kosmotras, the launch costs are currently about US$40,000 per single cube.

Cubesats operating in orbits with perigees below 600 kilometers in altitude will usually meet the 25-year rule. Orbits between 600 and 700 kilometers “are on the boundary” and may or may not meet the guideline, NASA says.

CubeSat standard

 CubeSat standard was created by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and Stanford University’s Space Systems Development Lab in 1999 to facilitate access to space for university students. Since then the standard has been adopted by hundreds of organizations worldwide. CubeSat developers include not only universities and educational institutions, but also private firms and government organizations.

The CubeSat standard facilitates frequent and affordable access to space with launch opportunities available on most launch vehicles.