2016.A.1.1. Achieving Science with CubeSats: Thinking Inside the Box


Thomas H. Zurbuchen (1)

  1. University of Michigan, United States of America




CubeSat science, constellations, policy issues


We present the results of a study conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The study focused on the scientific potential and technological promise of CubeSats. We will first review the growth of the CubeSat platform from an education-focused technology toward a platform of importance for technology development, science, and commercial use, both in the United States and internationally. The use has especially exploded in recent years. For example, of the over 400 CubeSats launched since 2000, more than 80% of all science-focused ones have been launched just in the past four years. Similarly, more than 80% of peer-reviewed papers describing new science based on CubeSat data have been published in the past five years.

We will then assess the technological and science promise of CubeSats across space science disciplines, and discuss a subset of priority science goals that can be achieved given the current state of CubeSat capabilities. Many of these goals address targeted science, often in coordination with other spacecraft, or by using sacrificial or high-risk orbits that lead to the demise of the satellite after critical data have been collected. Other goals relate to the use of CubeSats as constellations or swarms, deploying tens to hundreds of CubeSats that function as one distributed array of measurements.

Finally, we will summarize our conclusions and recommendations from this study; especially those focused on near-term investment that could improve the capabilities of CubeSats toward increased science and technological return and enable the science communities’ use of CubeSats.


  • Download slides in PDF format here (6MB)

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