CubeSats: Challenges and Opportunities

At the present day, the easiest way to get into space with a small budget and a team of amateur space explorers is to launch a “CubeSat” –a very small satellite, as a cube of 10x10x10 cm dimensions, with larger satellites also possible in the increments of this volume unit. Hundreds of those has been launched since the early 2000s, by universities, smaller aerospace companies or even dedicated individuals. They can carry a variety of instruments and have already proven to be an extremely successful and cost-effective way of doing space exploration activities. You can see their explosive growth curve for yourself:

Image source: Erik Kulu, Nanosatellite & CubeSat Database, https://www.nanosats.eu

However, even the smallest such satellite takes a significant investment of time (on order of years) and money (tens of thousands USD) as well as having to pass regulatory requirements from government agencies and launch providers. These challenges present a significant entry barrier for anyone wishing to launch their own satellite. In addition, even successful launch of a CubeSat is not a guarantee that it will become alive after deployment. The failure rates of those satellites are quite high, and it often takes several attempts to get a reliably operating one in orbit, paying full cost in both time and money each time.

As an example, a 1U cubesat, OSSI-1, was built by a single person, Hojun Song and launched in April 2013. He spent 7 years building it and paid at least $100,000 for the launch alone. Sadly, the satellite never became operational and re-entered Earth’s atmosphere just three months later.

Should not be there a better way?

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