New Space and Tech

Cubesats and Nanosats Find Their Niche

By Keith Cowing
April 8, 2013
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CubeSats to NanoSats; Bridging the gap between educational tools and science workhorses, Aerospace Conference, 2012 IEEE

Since their initial development and launch in the early 2000’s, the CubeSat platform has captured the imagination and energy of our next generation of spacecraft technologists around the world. Once thought of by the established space community as “toys” and educational novelties, the CubeSat has revolutionized the space-community and broken the acceptance barrier with proven development and on-orbit performance. Leveraging CalPoly’s published specification, CubeSats have demonstrated the advantages of a common form factor that can be launched and deployed using a common deployment system by smashing the cost-to-orbit price-point while offering significant mission manifest flexibility. The challenge now lies in transitioning the strengths and success of the CubeSat to mainstream science investigations. While the CubeSat’s successes combined with today’s budget constraints have served to open the established space community to discussions of innovative ideas to reduce costs; it faces both perceived and real constraints related to mission applications, reliability, payload performance, communications, and operations. The CubeSat model must be evolved to penetrate the stigmas and applied appropriately to become an accepted tool in the world of mainstream science investigations. This paper identifies issues and presents potential solutions and lessons-learned regarding these issues based on several recent mission concept developments for potential real-world applications.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.