How to launch a CubeSat

What is a CubeSat

A CubeSat is a small satellite that has made its way into the modern space market place.

Not only does it allow those with an interest to launch their own satellite, but it is also associated with lower costs and high-quality materials due to strict standardisation of design and miniaturisation of electronics.

In terms of its construction, the first CubeSat standard was developed by California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and Stanford University with the intention of conducting scientific research and exploring new space technologies.

However, CubeSats are now used for many commercial projects and have been hailed as one of the most effective ways to exhibit space technologies, or deliver a service from space. That’s because CubeSats have proved to be more efficient, smaller, cheaper to build and launch, but at the same time powerful and capable of performing complex mission goals.

What are the legal requirements for launching a CubeSat?

It’s legal for anyone who has the correct means to launch a CubeSat.

CubeSats are regulated by ISO 17770:2017 which outlines their required specification.

This includes rules relating to their physical, mechanical, electrical and operational features. There are also other regulations, including that a CubeSat is not allowed to transmit during launch, or soon after its deployment to orbit, to reduce the likelihood of electromagnetic interference to the launcher or other spacecraft.

The Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) has a handbook that puts forward engineering and technical requirements for NASA programs and projects including those relating to selection, application and design.

However, those considering using CubeSats should guarantee safe operation of their systems, acquire the correct licensing, and adhere to the design and testing requirements.

Does the size of your CubeSat matter?

CubeSats must adhere to the standards outlined in the CubeSat specification, published by Cal Poly. They are typically made up of 10x10x10cm units (referred to as 1U size) and their weight should not exceed 1.33kg per unit.

They will typically use off-the-shelf components to make the process more cost-effective and this can include electronics, subsystems, and software.

Furthermore, to facilitate more features and advanced technology, CubeSats can also be created in a myriad of sizes, including 1U, 2U, 3U and 6U+.

How do you launch a CubeSat?

The process of launching a CubeSat is straightforward because the period it takes from the developing to the launching stage is relatively short.

In fact, it is possible for a CubeSat to be designed, built, tested and launched within a period of six months.

However, in most cases where additional features need to be considered, it takes an average time of 18 to 24 months to complete.

This is still fast-tracked in comparison to most traditional satellite launches. It is important to note that any CubeSat mission must only be conducted while complying with international space regulations and while possessing relevant permissions and licenses.

The first step of launching a CubeSat is to design and built it while keeping in mind the mission requirements.

Things that ought to be considered at this stage include the external structure of the CubeSat as well as the systems that are required for it to function correctly.

A key part of launching a CubeSat effectively is making sure that the correct off-the-shelf components are used for electronics and subsystems. This allows CubeSat missions to effectively and rapidly develop complex spacecraft without incurring additional costs.

Onboard software is another key component that “glues” the entire CubeSat together. Similar to various subsystems and electronics, it can also be purchased off-the-shelf to accelerate the development process.

Off-she-shelf solutions like the Flight Software Development Kit from Bright Ascension allow CubeSat developers to build their onboard software packages quickly, efficiently and at a lower cost by combining  a library of pre-validated software components t with bespoke components created for a unique and particular mission.

When the CubeSat is built, it cannot be launched straightaway.

In fact, it is vital to test it first to see if it is apt to cope with various conditions. These tests may include vibration testing, thermal testing and vacuum testing.

Once the CubeSat has passed the relevant tests, it is integrated into a deployment device which will safeguard the satellite during launch and deploy it into space. This device will be placed onto a rocket which is launched into space.

This may be a mission solely for the purpose of CubeSats, or it could be part of a different mission.

If the launch has been successful, the relevant operations will take place and its mission will ensue.

This may entail collecting data or testing new technologies, for example.

How much does it cost to launch a CubeSat?

In comparison to traditional satellite launch missions, the cost of CubeSat missions is considerably lower.

Statistics reveal that basic weather satellites can cost anywhere from £169,000 excluding their maintenance, miscellaneous costs and launch.

The cost of launching a CubeSat can vary according to the complexity of the mission, payload requirements and launch options.

It typically fluctuates between tens of thousands of pounds to a few million pounds.

As CubeSats have now been made accessible to the general public, there are many options when it comes to building the most cost-effective small-scale satellite.

How can Bright Ascension’s products help?

CubeSats have transformed the modern space landscape by providing an accessible and cost-effective solution for carrying out scientific research and testing out technology.

As a result, many organisations and institutions are considering launching CubeSats thanks to their modular design and short development cycle.

Fortunately, building a CubeSat is easier than ever as there are plenty of resources dedicated to assisting those who are interested in designing and launching their own satellite.

With our reliable software, Bright Ascension is able to offer a rapid, efficient, and cost-effective way of launching your CubeSat mission.

We believe that CubeSat technology should be more accessible to those who need it.

To find out more about how Bright Ascension can help you to launch your very own CubeSat, contact us today.