Why CubeSats?

June 9, 2016

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For its satellite design and build programme, CSST will focus on the exploitation of CubeSat technology. A CubeSat is a nano-satellite comprising one or more standard ‘units’ (U) each of which measures 10 cm on a side forming a cube of 1 litre volume. In practice, CubeSats are either launched in 1U, 2U (20 × 10 × 10 cm), 3U (30 × 10 × 10 cm), or 6U (30 × 20 × 10 cm) configurations.

There are a number of reasons for focusing CSST’s operations on CubeSat technology:

  1. Standardisation of CubeSat design, and thus payload management on launch vehicles, facilitates the sharing of a single launch by multiple satellites thereby significantly lowering the cost of getting a CubeSat into space. Current Rocket Lab costs for launching CubeSats is US$77,000 for a 1U satellite and US$240,000 for a 3U satellite as opposed to 10s – 100s of millions of dollars for traditional satellite launches.
  2. Constellations of CubeSats can be launched to make multiple measurements A network of many (tens to hundreds) of small inexpensive satellites also has greater resilience to failure than a small number of expensive satellites.
  3. Although CubeSats have typical operational lifetimes of 2–3 years, their low development and launch costs allow frequent upgrades to the most recent technology and results in a more resilient and agile space programme.
  4. New Zealand has domestic launch capabilities configured specifically for CubeSats through Rocket Lab, which is a parent organisation to CSST.