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Wednesday, February 3 • 10:35 - 10:55
Comparison of CubeSats, CubeSat Swarms and Classical Earth Observation Satellites in LEO

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Since the dawn of the space age, spacecraft design, construction, testing and operation was the realm of large multinational corporations, well funded government space agencies and select few academic institutions. Then, in 1999, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) changed the world by introducing the Cube Satellite (CS), a standardized, low cost and modular satellite platform, to the space sector. This has allowed academic institutions, small countries and commercial entities to own and operate space assets for an affordable price. As a result, CS launches have increased exponentially since their introduction.

The role of the CS is expanding in the space industries academic and private sectors with most applications focused on Earth observation missions. This is a clear departure from traditional methods (large, expensive and customized Earth observation satellites (EOS) in the space industry. An interesting question arises, which technology is better, the classical EOS or the CS?

To answer this question, a trade study was completed comparing CS’s and classical EOS’s in low earth orbit (LEO). Cost and schedule were compared using methods for cost and time estimation for space missions in the conceptual design phase; however operational costs and overhead were omitted. Additionally, risk of mission failure between the cases is analyzed however; project and operational risks were not considered. Lastly, coverage area and spatial resolution are analyzed for a generic payload to compare observational capability.

Five cases were analyzed within the scope of both technologies:

1. 3U Cube Satellite
2. 50 3U Cube Satellite Swarm (CSS)
3. Micro EOS (10 – 100 kg)
4. Small EOS (100 – 500 kg)
5. Large EOS (>500 kg)

It was found that the best choice for Earth observation is the use of CSS’s over classical EOS’s in terms of cost, schedule, and risk. The cost, while having a similar order of magnitude to the smallest of classical EOS's , is flexible and scalable compared to classical EOS’s. The schedule is similar to micro EOS’s, but vastly improved over small and large EOS’s. Finally, the risk is much smaller. We note here that payloads are the deciding factor in the choice to use CSS’s. The next best alternative is the micro EOS. The choice between both technologies, while skewed towards CSS’s, will come down to payload choice and the return on investment of the mission. Lastly, Earth observation payloads currently in service should be reduced in size for accommodation on board a CS.

avatar for Carlos Lange

Carlos Lange

Associate Professor, University of Alberta, ISSET
Computational Fluid Dynamics, Planetary Atmospheres, CubeSats

avatar for Christopher Robson

Christopher Robson

Mechanical Lead, AlbertaSat
I am a 5th year Mechanical Engineering Co-Op student at the University of Alberta, I was the Project Manager of the Ex-Alta 1 Satellite project (AlbertaSat Student Group) for two years and am currently the Mechanical Lead for the Ex-Alta 1 Satellite. Ex-Alta 1 is a 3U CubeSat flying with the QB50 mission to study the lower thermosphere and will become Alberta's first satellite. Ex-Alta 1 hosts a Langmuir probe package, a U of A designed... Read More →

Wednesday February 3, 2016 10:35 - 10:55
Provence Room 45 The Esplanade, Toronto, ON M5E 1W2

Attendees (12)