Cubesats and Satellite Imagery



First published on January 30, 2019

Introduction to CubeSats

A CubeSat(also called a NanoSat) is a small satellite, typically ranging from 10 cm³ to 20 cm x 20 cm x 30 cm. (Smaller satellites are called PocketSats or WaferSats).

CubeSats that orbit the Earth for at least one orbit are true satellites. (“Satellites” that merely probe the upper atmosphere or are carried by a balloon are technically not satellites even if they are called such by public relations departments). CubeSats face many of the same challenges as do larger satellites, and hence have some of the same sorts of systems.

NASA Ames nanosatellite launch (credit: NASA)
NASA’s first deep space cubesats (credit: NASA)
Crazy engineering: cubesats (credit: NASA)


CubeSats typically include the following systems:

  • Frame (structure)
  • Payload (sensors, camera, other)
  • Controller (CPU)
  • Power (typically photovoltaic cells and batteries)
  • Communications and antenna
  • Guidance and navigation
  • Attitude control (and sometimes propulsion)
  • Thermal control (may just be a roll)


CubeSats require a structure. These can be purchased pre-built. They are typically in cubes of preset multiples of 1.0 U, 0.5 U or 0.25 U. They need to be able to handle the temperature extremes of space, which typically requires metal or exotic plastics.

1U CubeSat

1U CubeSat (10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, credit

Various cube sat sizes

Various cube sat sizes




Two NASA CubeSats

Actual CubeSats (credit: NASA)


Cube sats must communicate with ground stations on Earth using specific frequencies.


Cube sats can be directly launched, or transported to the International Space Station (ISS) and deployed form there.

CubeSat Ventures


Ground Stations

You will need at least one ground station to communicate with your cube sat.

Further Information and Resources


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