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Achieving Science with CubeSats: Thinking Inside the Box (2016)

Chapter: Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics

« Previous: Appendix A: Statement of Task
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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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B

CubeSat Publications—Descriptive Statistics

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this section is to review and assess publications related to CubeSats, in support of Chapter 4. Two types of publications are of interest. The first set includes publications (both reviewed and conference contributions) that introduce enabling technologies and novel mission designs. Such publications appear in a wide variety of engineering and scientific journals. The second set of publications contains those that document the scientific findings emerging from CubeSats. The latter papers are published only after CubeSats have operated for an adequate amount of time and the data are analyzed and interpreted. Given the recent emergence of CubeSats, one would therefore expect a high number of the first type of publications, followed with a delayed and possibly smaller number of the second kind.

NUMBER OF PUBLICATIONS

Due to the fast growth and diversity of the communities involved in CubeSats (see Chapter 1), there is currently no authoritative count of publications that have come from this platform. A search of the scientific citation indexing service Web of Science (WoS) with the keyword “CubeSat*” in all topics1 results in 959 publications, the first of which was published in 2000.2Figure B.1 shows the distribution of these publications: 724 of the publications cite engineering as a research area, and 29 have education or educational research as a keyword.

Excluding all records that are not cataloged as articles leaves 290 publications. Figure B.2 shows how these articles are distributed in time and highlights the rapid and nearly exponential increase in the number of articles since 2007. These articles fall in over 40 topical areas, but the majority (219, or over 75 percent) list engineering as the research area (potentially among others). The scientific topic area with the largest number of articles was astronomy/astrophysics, with 71 records, which includes a significant number of publications in solar and space physics. There were 7 articles that listed education research as a topic area.

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1 The search included the following Web of Science databases: Web of Science Core Collection, Inspec, Current Contents Connect, KCI-Korean Journal Database, and MEDLINE.

2 It is important to note that not every paper based on research conducted via CubeSats lists the term in the publication. It may, for example, use the term “nanosatellite,” or even “small satellite.” So a search on the term “CubeSat*” alone is a likely undercount of the publications based on CubeSats.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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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FIGURE B.1 All publications (959) with the keyword CubeSat* through 2015. NOTE: Count for 2015 may be incomplete although the search was performed early in 2016. SOURCE: Web of Science search conducted on January 10, 2016, http://www.webofscience.com.
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FIGURE B.2 Articles (290) with the keyword CubeSat* through 2015. NOTE: Count for 2015 may be incomplete although the search was performed early in 2016. SOURCE: Web of Science search conducted on January 10, 2016, http://www.webofscience.com.

A search on a different scientific citation indexing service, Scopus, leads to a different number of publications. A search on the term “CubeSat*” in Scopus results in 2,283 records. This number is likely higher because Scopus covers more engineering journals and conference proceedings than does WoS. Limiting the search to Abstract, Title and Keywords leaves in 1,264 records.

Selecting only articles results in 202 records. As with WoS, the bulk of the papers (170) are characterized as engineering, followed by Earth and planetary science (49). And as with WoS, there is steep increase in the number of publications in recent years (Figure B.3). Scopus follows a different classification scheme than does WoS, and the papers cover 19 scientific disciplines. However, the top research area of publications remains engineering (Figure B.4).

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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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FIGURE B.3 Articles with the keyword CubeSat* in title, abstract, and keywords. NOTE: Count for 2015 may be incomplete although the search was performed early in 2016. SOURCE: Scopus search conducted on January 10, 2016, http://www.scopus.com/.
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FIGURE B.4 Distribution of articles with the keyword CubeSat* in title, abstract, and keywords by subject area. NOTE: Count for 2015 may be incomplete although the search was performed early in 2016. SOURCE: Scopus search conducted on January 10, 2016, http://www.scopus.com/.
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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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FIGURE B.5 All publications with the keyword “CubeSat” or “CubeSats” in both title and abstract. NOTE: Count for 2015 may be incomplete although the search was performed early in 2016. SOURCE: SAO/NASA ADS (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory/NASA Astrophysics Data System) search conducted on January 25, 2016, http://www.adsabs.harvard.edu/, accessed January 2016.

A third source used to catalog CubeSat publications was the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory/NASA Astrophysics Data System, which includes a much broader set of journals than might be implied by the title. Searches were conducted using the terms “CubeSat” or “CubeSats” in either the title or abstracts of each entry. This search leads to a total of 536 publications, 160 of which are refereed journal papers (Figure B.5).

The 160 refereed papers were manually classified into seven categories: engineering; astronomy and astrophysics; solar and space physics/heliophysics; planetary science; Earth sciences, biological sciences, and other. As Figure B.6 shows, almost three-quarters of these papers are engineering oriented; 41 publications are devoted to the five scientific fields of interest.3

Figure B.7 presents a time series of these 41 refereed papers in the five scientific fields of interest, and it shows that over the years, heliophysics has been the dominant field of publication, with planetary science, astronomy, and biology entering the domain in recent years.

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3 The category “other” includes publications on policy or educational topics or survey-type articles.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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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FIGURE B.6 Distribution of refereed publications by fields of interest. SOURCE: Committee assessment using data set from SAO/NASA ADS (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory/NASA Astrophysics Data System) search conducted on January 25, 2016, http://www.adsabs.harvard.edu/, accessed January 2016.
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FIGURE B.7 Distribution of refereed publications distributed over scientific research areas by year. SOURCE: Committee assessment using data set from SAO/NASA ADS (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory/NASA Astrophysics Data System) search conducted on January 25, 2016, http://www.adsabs.harvard.edu/, accessed January 2016.
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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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FIGURE B.8 Qualitative assessment of science impact by reviewers. Research was rated in five categories: (1) research challenges current understanding in the field; (2) research improves understanding of existing scientific or engineering concept; (3) research has potential to create a new paradigm or challenge current paradigm in science, engineering or education; (4) research validates a measurement technique or use of novel instrument or technique; and (5) research has potential to lead to use of new techniques or methodologies in space. More than one contribution could be selected for each paper.

QUALITATIVE ASSESSMENT

Although the committee identified only 41 scientific publications based on CubeSats,4 it is important to note that refereed papers are being published, and some of them have important consequences for the understanding of science in solar and space physics (see Chapter 4 for examples).

A subset of 15 of these papers were reviewed qualitatively by the committee to assess impact. Naturally, the depth of scientific impact of these papers is aligned with the availability of science-focused CubeSats that are in flight, which is dominated by solar and space physics and heliophysics (out of the set, 9 publications were in the domain of solar and space physics). Refereed publications in astronomy and astrophysics or planetary sciences are mostly focused on the description of new measurement techniques or data strategies enabled by CubeSats.

The result of this qualitative analysis is provided in Figure B.8. Committee members rated the contributions of the research in five categories: research that challenges current understanding; research that improves understanding; research with the potential to create a new paradigm in science, engineering, or education; research that validated a measurement technique; or research that could lead to new methodologies in space. Overall, the scien-

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4 These papers were gathered from the previously mentioned literature searches, from publication lists sent by the NSF CubeSat program teams, and from the committee’s request to attendees of the community input symposium in Irvine, California.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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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tific benefit of CubeSats was spread across a small number of topics. CubeSats had the potential to be paradigm altering or to improve understanding of the underlying physical processes that were studied. Yet, the engineering and educational impact was considered to be important for many of the investigations, especially because a number of them proved new technologies or instrument techniques.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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.
×
Page 94
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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.
×
Page 95
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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.
×
Page 96
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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.
×
Page 97
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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.
×
Page 98
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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.
×
Page 99
Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: CubeSat Publications - Descriptive Statistics." 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.
×
Page 100
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Space-based observations have transformed our understanding of Earth, its environment, the solar system and the universe at large. During past decades, driven by increasingly advanced science questions, space observatories have become more sophisticated and more complex, with costs often growing to billions of dollars. Although these kinds of ever-more-sophisticated missions will continue into the future, small satellites, ranging in mass between 500 kg to 0.1 kg, are gaining momentum as an additional means to address targeted science questions in a rapid, and possibly more affordable, manner. Within the category of small satellites, CubeSats have emerged as a space-platform defined in terms of (10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm)- sized cubic units of approximately 1.3 kg each called “U’s.” Historically, CubeSats were developed as training projects to expose students to the challenges of real-world engineering practices and system design. Yet, their use has rapidly spread within academia, industry, and government agencies both nationally and internationally.

In particular, CubeSats have caught the attention of parts of the U.S. space science community, which sees this platform, despite its inherent constraints, as a way to affordably access space and perform unique measurements of scientific value. The first science results from such CubeSats have only recently become available; however, questions remain regarding the scientific potential and technological promise of CubeSats in the future.

Achieving Science with CubeSats reviews the current state of the scientific potential and technological promise of CubeSats. This report focuses on the platform’s promise to obtain high- priority science data, as defined in recent decadal surveys in astronomy and astrophysics, Earth science and applications from space, planetary science, and solar and space physics (heliophysics); the science priorities identified in the 2014 NASA Science Plan; and the potential for CubeSats to advance biology and microgravity research. It provides a list of sample science goals for CubeSats, many of which address targeted science, often in coordination with other spacecraft, or use “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.

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