CubeSats Overview

IDENTIFICATION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF INNOVATION

CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. CubeSats are built to standard dimensions (Units or “U”) of 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm. They can be 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in size, and typically weigh less than 1.33 kg (3 lbs) per U. NASA’s CubeSats are deployed from a Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer, or P-POD.

NASA’s CubeSat Launch initiative (CSLI) provides opportunities for small satellite payloads to fly on rockets planned for upcoming launches. These CubeSats are flown as auxiliary payloads on previously planned missions.

The cube-shaped satellites are approximately four inches long, have a volume of about one quart and weigh about 3 pounds.  To participate in the CSLI program, CubeSat investigations should be consistent with NASA’s Strategic Plan and the Education Strategic Coordination Framework. The research should address aspects of science, exploration, technology development, education or operations.

By providing a progression of educational opportunities including CSLI for students, teachers, and faculty, NASA assists the Nation in attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines.  This strengthens NASA’s and the Nation’s future workforce.  Further, the CSLI promotes and develops innovative technology partnerships among NASA, U.S. industry, and other sectors for the benefit of Agency programs and projects.  NASA thus gains a mechanism to use CubeSats for low-cost technology development or pathfinders.

Satellites selected to date come from 29 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. NASA is broadening the CubeSat Launch Initiative to promote a spacecraft nation and develop innovative technology partnerships among NASA, U.S. industry and educational institutions to build upon an existing successful initiative and expand it to include launching 50 small satellites from 50 states within five years.

CubeSats
A set of NanoRacks CubeSats is photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member after the deployment by the NanoRacks Launcher attached to the end of the Japanese robotic arm. Credits: NASA