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State-of-the-Art of Small Spacecraft Technology At NASA

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
February 10, 2023
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State-of-the-Art of Small Spacecraft Technology At NASA
State-of-the-Art of Small Spacecraft Technology At NASA

Welcome to the new online home of the 2022 NASA State-of-the-Art Small Spacecraft Technology report. Download entire State-of-the-Art Small Spacecraft Technology report as of October 2022.


When the first edition of NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology State-of-the-art report was published in 2013, 247 CubeSats and 105 other non-CubeSat small spacecraft under 50 kilograms (kg) had been launched worldwide, representing less than 2% of launched mass into orbit over multiple years.

In 2013 alone, around 60% of the total spacecraft launched had a mass under 600 kg, and of those under 600 kg, 83% were under 200 kg and 37% were nanosatellites (1). Of the total 1,849 spacecraft launched in 2021, 94% were small spacecraft with an overall mass under 600 kg, and of those under 600 kg, 40% were under 200 kg, and 11% were nanosatellites (1).

Since 2013, the fight heritage for small spacecraft has increased by over 30% and has become the primary source to space access for commercial, government, private, and academic institutions. The total number of spacecraft launched in the past 10 years is 5,681 and 45% of those had a mass <200 kg (1).

As with all previous editions of this report, the 2022 edition captures and distills a wealth of new information available on small spacecraft systems from NASA and other publicly available sources.

This report is limited to publicly available information and cannot reflect major advances in development that are not publicly disclosed. We encourage any opportunity to publish mission outcomes and technology development milestones (e.g., via conference papers, press releases, company website) so they can be reflected in this report. Overall, this report is a survey of small spacecraft technologies sourced from open literature; it does not endeavor to be an original source, and only considers literature in the public domain to identify and classify devices.

Commonly used sources for data include manufacturer datasheets, press releases, conference papers, journal papers, public filings with government agencies, news articles, presentations, the compendium of databases accessed via NASA’s Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute (S3VI) Information Search, and engagement with companies. Data not appropriate for public dissemination, such as proprietary, export controlled, or otherwise restricted data, are not considered.

As a result, this report includes many dedicated hours of desk research performed by subject matter experts reviewing resources noted above. Content in this 2022 edition is based on data available by October 2022. This report should not be considered as a comprehensive overview of all the technologies but a great reference for the current state-of-the-art SmallSat technologies.

The organizational approach for each chapter is relatively consistent with previous editions and includes an introduction of the technology, current development status of the technology’s procurable systems, and summary tables of technologies surveyed. The content in each chapter is uniquely organized to present a mini-stand-alone report on spacecraft subsystems.

As in previous years, chapters include information from previous editions but are updated with new and maturating technologies and reference missions. Tables in each section provide a convenient summary of the technologies discussed, with explanations and references in the body text. The authors have attempted to isolate trends in the small spacecraft industry to point out which technologies have been adopted after successful demonstration missions. Lastly, the authors tried to use the terms “SmallSat,” “microsatellite,” “nanosatellite,” and “CubeSat” in a consistent manner, even as these terms are often used interchangeably in the space industry.

Every subsystem chapter contains updated information to reflect the growth in the small spacecraft market. Significant changes are included in several chapters. The “Complete Spacecraft Platforms” chapter now includes information on the two main market options, hosted payload services and dedicated buses.

The “Power” chapter provides information on the development of solid-state batteries with significantly higher energy than the current state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries. A large effort was made to update the “Communications” chapter to appropriately capture the recent technology maturation of optical communications for SmallSats.

The “Ground Data Systems and Mission Operations” chapter was updated to reflect the recent establishment of the Near Space Network and influx of SmallSat Optical Ground Stations.

The “Guidance, Navigation and Control” chapter was updated to include Lidar sensor technology.

The “Deorbit Systems” chapter includes a discussion of recently proposed changes by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to limit a spacecraft’s lifetime to no longer than 5 years after end-of-mission. The “Identification and Tracking” Chapter includes updated information on the progress of SmallSat tracking.

Finally, this report now encompasses technology funded by NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) program’s SmallSat Technology Partnerships (STP) initiative which is described further in this Introduction. The reader can find the included SST technology in the “On the Horizon” section of the “Thermal Systems”, “Communications”, and “Guidance, Navigation, and Control” chapters.

A central element of this report is to list state-of-the-art technologies by NASA standard Technology Readiness Level (TRL) as defined by the 2020 NASA Engineering Handbook, found in NASA NPR 7123.1C NASA Systems Engineering Processes and Requirements. The authors have endeavored to independently verify the TRL value of each technology by reviewing and citing published test results or publicly available data to the best of their ability.

Where test results and data disagree with vendors’ own advertised TRL, the authors have attempted to engage the vendors to discuss the discrepancy. Readers are strongly encouraged to follow the references cited in the literature describing the full performance range and capabilities of each technology. Readers of this report should reach out to individual companies to further clarify information. It is important to note that this report takes a broad system-level view. To attain a high TRL, the subsystem must be in a flight-ready configuration with all supporting infrastructure—such as mounting points, power conversion, and control algorithms—in an integrated unit.

An accurate TRL assessment requires a high degree of technical knowledge on a subject device, and an in-depth understanding of the mission (including interfaces and environment) on which the device was flown. There is variability in TRL values depending on design factors for a specific technology.

For example, differences in TRL assessment based on the operating environment may result from the thermal environment, mechanical loads, mission duration, or radiation exposure. If a technology has flown on a mission without success, or without providing valid confirmation to the operator, such claimed “flight heritage” was discounted. The authors believe TRLs are most accurately determined when assessed within the context of a program’s unique requirements.

While the overall capability of small spacecraft has matured since the 2021 edition of this report, technologies are still being developed to make deep space SmallSat missions more routine and more cost effective.

Future editions of this report may include content dedicated to the rapidly growing fields ofassembly, integration, and testing services, and mission modeling and simulation–all of which are now extensively represented at small spacecraft conferences. Many of these subsystems and services are still in their infancy, but as they evolve and reliable conventions and standards emerge, the next iteration of this report may also evolve to include additional chapters.


Bryce and Space Technology. “SmallSat by the Numbers, 2022.” [Online] Accessed: September 28, 2022.

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