Thinking Inside the Box
Committee on Achieving Science Goals with CubeSats
Space Studies Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This activity is supported by Contract NNH11CD57B with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with support from Lockheed Martin for printing additional copies of the report. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-44263-3
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-44263-X
Digital Object Identifier: 10.17226/23503
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Suggested Citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Achieving Science with CubeSats: Thinking Inside the Box. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/23503.
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OTHER RECENT REPORTS OF THE SPACE STUDIES BOARD
Continuity of NASA Earth Observations from Space: A Value Framework (SSB, 2015)
Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System (Board on Physics and Astronomy [BPA] with the Space Studies Board [SSB], 2015)
Review of the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions (SSB, 2015)
Sharing the Adventure with the Student: Exploring the Intersections of NASA Space Science and Education: A Workshop Summary (SSB, with the Board on Science Education, 2015)
The Space Science Decadal Surveys: Lessons Learned and Best Practices (SSB, 2015)
Evaluation of the Implementation of WFIRST/AFTA in the Context of New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (BPA with SSB, 2014)
Opportunities for High-Power, High-Frequency Transmitters to Advance Ionospheric/Thermospheric Research: Report of a Workshop (SSB, 2014)
Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration (Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board [ASEB] with SSB, 2014)
Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society: An Overview (SSB, 2014)
Landsat and Beyond: Sustaining and Enhancing the Nation’s Land Imaging Program (SSB, 2013)
Lessons Learned in Decadal Planning in Space Science: Summary of a Workshop (SSB, 2013)
Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan (SSB, 2013)
Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society (SSB, 2013)
Assessment of a Plan for U.S. Participation in Euclid (BPA with SSB, 2012)
Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Spacecraft Missions to Icy Solar System Bodies (SSB, 2012)
Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey (SSB, 2012)
The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate: A Workshop Report (SSB, 2012)
NASA’s Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus (Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, 2012)
Report of the Panel on Implementing Recommendations from the New Worlds, New Horizons Decadal Survey (BPA and SSB, 2012)
Technical Evaluation of the NASA Model for Cancer Risk to Astronauts Due to Space Radiation (SSB, 2012)
Assessment of Impediments to Interagency Collaboration on Space and Earth Science Missions (SSB, 2011)
Panel Reports—New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (BPA and SSB, 2011)
Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era (SSB and ASEB, 2011)
Sharing the Adventure with the Public—The Value and Excitement of “Grand Questions” of Space Science and Exploration: Summary of a Workshop (SSB, 2011)
Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022 (SSB, 2011)
Limited copies of SSB reports are available free of charge from:
Space Studies Board
National Research Council
The Keck Center of the National Academies
500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001
COMMITTEE ON ACHIEVING SCIENCE GOALS WITH CUBESATS
THOMAS H. ZURBUCHEN, University of Michigan, Chair
BHAVYA LAL, IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, Vice Chair
JULIE CASTILLO-ROGEZ, California Institute of Technology
ANDREW CLEGG, Google, Inc.
PAULO C. LOZANO, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MALCOLM MACDONALD, University of Strathclyde
ROBYN MILLAN, Dartmouth College
CHARLES D. NORTON, California Institute of Technology
WILLIAM H. SWARTZ, Johns Hopkins University
ALAN TITLE, Lockheed Martin
THOMAS WOODS, University of Colorado
EDWARD L. WRIGHT, University of California, Los Angeles
A. THOMAS YOUNG, Lockheed Martin Corporation (retired)
ABIGAIL A. SHEFFER, Program Officer, Study Director
KATIE DAUD, Research Associate
DIONNA J. WILLIAMS, Program Coordinator
JAMES ALVER, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern
THOMAS KATUCKI, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director, Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
SPACE STUDIES BOARD
DAVID N. SPERGEL, Princeton University, Chair
ROBERT D. BRAUN, Georgia Institute of Technology, Vice Chair
JAMES G. ANDERSON, Harvard University
JAMES P. BAGIAN, University of Michigan
JEFF M. BINGHAM, Consultant
PENELOPE J. BOSTON, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
MARY LYNNE DITTMAR, Dittmar Associates, Inc.
JOSEPH FULLER, JR., Futron Corporation
THOMAS R. GAVIN, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
NEIL GEHRELS, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
SARAH GIBSON, National Center for Atmospheric Research
WESLEY T. HUNTRESS, JR. Carnegie Institution of Washington (retired)
ANTHONY C. JANETOS, Boston University
CHRYSSA KOUVELIOTOU, The George Washington University
SAUL PERLMUTTER, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
LOUISE M. PROCKTER, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory
MARK H. THIEMENS, University of California, San Diego
MEENAKSHI WADHWA, Arizona State University
THOMAS H. ZURBUCHEN, University of Michigan
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director
CARMELA J. CHAMBERLAIN, Administrative Coordinator
TANJA PILZAK, Manager, Program Operations
CELESTE A. NAYLOR, Information Management Associate
MARGARET KNEMEYER, Financial Officer
SU LIU, Financial Assistant
Small satellites called CubeSats (i.e., satellites built in increments of 10 cm cubes—1 cube is called 1U or “unit,” two cubes together are 2U, and so on) historically have been used mostly as teaching tools and technology demonstrations. However, recently proposed and selected flight projects are showing that technologies have matured enough so that CubeSats can potentially address important science goals as well. CubeSats are now part of a trend toward an increasingly diverse set of platforms for pursuing space and Earth sciences. In recognition of this trend, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) requested in 2014 that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conduct an ad hoc review of the scientific potential of the CubeSat platform and make recommendations to improve the capabilities of the platform to enable its use by the scientific community. The Committee on Achieving Science Goals with CubeSats was formed and began work on its task (see Appendix A for the full statement of task).
Particular challenges for the committee were the relative newness of use of the CubeSat platform for science and the rapid pace of change in the relevant technologies, potential CubeSat missions, and the increasing interest from a variety of potential users within the research, educational, and commercial communities. As of the end of 2015, 425 CubeSats had been launched; more than 100 of those were during the course of this study. Therefore, the input processes for the committee were designed to be as inclusive as possible of new ideas and results. The committee also requested that each of NSF’s CubeSat project teams, as well as the GeneSat and O/OREOS project teams, provide a list of their publications, including conference presentations, to ensure that the committee was aware of current results and also those that were not yet published. The committee would like to thank NASA and NSF and the members of their CubeSat teams for their responsiveness to these requests. All CubeSat launch and mission data analyzed for the report were up to date on December 31, 2015. Publication analyses were performed by January 15, 2016.
The committee held its first meeting on June 22-23, 2015, in Washington, D.C., followed by a writing meeting on October 22-23 and a policy-focused meeting on October 30, both in Washington, D.C. At the policy-focused meeting, the committee heard perspectives from the Office of Science and Technology Policy and discussed orbital debris and space situation awareness, spectrum availability, and current issues regarding the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Panelists and speakers were present from NASA, NSF, the Department of Defense, the Federal Communications Commission, the Joint Space Operations Center, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Universities Space Research Association, the Secure World Foundation, and Analytical Graphics, Inc.’s Center for Space Standards and Innovation.
The committee also sought to understand this rapidly changing environment via three focused input events. As part of their second meeting, the committee held a community symposium on September 2-3, 2015, in Irvine, California. This meeting included a combination of keynote speakers who presented the history and current state of CubeSat science and technology and panels of scientists and engineers who discussed the future of the platform in their expertise areas. Science discipline areas included Earth science, solar and space physics (also referred to as heliophysics), planetary science, and astronomy and astrophysics. Other panels discussed technology for CubeSats, CubeSats for technology development, industry capabilities, and CubeSats in education. In addition to the invited speakers and panelists, the committee held a call for poster presentations, asking the community to bring their best ideas for science, mission concepts, and technology development. More than 125 participants attended the symposium, and 60 posters were submitted (Figure P.1). To round out the relevant science disciplines, the Space Studies Board’s standing Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space hosted a keynote and panel discussion for their discipline during their meeting on October 27-29, 2015, in Irvine, California. The Committee on Achieving Science Goals with CubeSats attended the session via web conference. To gain an international perspective, members of the committee were hosted by the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) at their forum on Performing High-Quality Science on CubeSats on January 19-20, 2016, in Bern, Switzerland. The committee would like to thank the staff of ISSI, and in particular, Rafael Rodrigo, Rudolf von Steiger, Maurizio Falanga, and Jennifer Fankhauser-Zaugg.
This report summarizes the history of CubeSats and reflects the rapidly changing environment of the CubeSat platform, and consequently, it focuses on recommendations for near-term actions as well as on strategies for enhancing the scientific usefulness of CubeSats without overly restraining the spirit of innovation that characterizes the broad community of CubeSat users.
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Michael Bartone, Intelligence Advance Research Projects Activity,
Claude Canizares, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Elizabeth Cantwell, Arizona State University,
David Klumpar, Montana State University,
Michael Ladisch, Purdue University,
Stephen Mackwell, Universities Space Research Association, and
Marcia McNutt, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Marcia Rieke, University of Arizona, who was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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