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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- New Zealand has domestic launch capabilities configured specifically for CubeSats through Rocket Lab, which is a parent organisation to CSST.