CubeSat Database

August 2018: my data is in flux with a lot of updates rolling in. Please be careful before drawing any sweeping conclusions from what you see right now. I'll post an update when things have settled down.

[Looking for my Smallsat 2018 page? Try this one.]

My data is only as good as what you're willing to share. If you have worked on one of these CubeSats, please fill out my Two-Minute Survey!

This is my working list of all CubeSats that have flown. I no longer try to keep track of upcoming launches, as (a) launch dates and published manifests change up to the last minute, including after launch, and (b) I have a day job.

[Note: With Planet and Spire contributing more than 400 CubeSats between them, their missions dominate any chart that I could produce. Therefore, for the sake of readability, many of my charts will exclude them; I will indicate those with "No Constellations" in the title. This also excludes all of the other up-and-coming CubeSat constellations.]

Page Layout

Special topics get their own, separate pages:
What you're looking at: the x-axis is the total number of CubeSats that an organization might have produced. The y-axis is the number of organizations that have made that many spacecraft. In other words, if your organization has only ever produced one CubeSat, you're counted in the leftmost column. If your organization has flown 2, you're counted in the second column (and not the first). And so on.

What this graph means: A whole lot of organizations build one CubeSat. Not many of them stick around long enough to build a second. And the number that produce three or more CubeSats is quite small, indeed.

Standard Plots

  • Basic census data (number of missions, mission classes, identity of organizations participating)
  • Levels of mission success for university-class and professional-class CubeSats

Definitions

  • CubeSat. When we talk about "CubeSats", we're really talking about "containerized spacecraft"; so many CubeSats have flown because it is (comparatively) easy to qualify the containers for launch. Why? The container decouples the spacecraft from the launch vehicle; more so than any other launch system, the CubeSat restrictions and the container protect the launch vehicle from the secondary spacecraft. (And vice versa, but that's of lesser concern to the launch vehicle). So, as far as I'm concerned, a CubeSat-class spacecraft is any situation where the spacecraft is launched in a standardized container - or is compatible with such containers. Example containers:
    • The Opal ejector system. Opal is where the CubeSat idea was conceived and first executed.
    • The Space Shuttle Picosat Launcher (SSPL).
    • Any of the ejectors that are (mostly) compatible with the Cal Poly CubeSat Design Specification:
      • Cal Poly's P-POD.
      • The ISIPOD and QuadPack
      • JAXA's ejector for the International Space Station (J-SSOD), brokered by NanoRacks.
      • NanoRacks has its own dispenser, the lengthily-named NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD).
      • The Pico Satellite launcher (PSL), by Astro- und Feinwerktechnik, which comes in Single,  Double and Triple variants; all variants will be labeled as PSL in the database. 
      • NASA's NLAS.
      • Planetary System Corp.'s Canisterized Satellite Dispenser.
      • Tyvak's RailPOD.
      • [please contact me to add your dispenser to this list!]
  • Mission Status. We have defined levels of mission success, based on what fraction (if any) of the mission objectives have been achieved. Mission status is distinct from spacecraft functional status; mission status is only concerned with how much of the primary mission has been achieved. An otherwise-functional spacecraft with a broken primary payload would be stuck at Level 3. A spacecraft that cannot downlink its mission data, for whatever reasons, would be stuck at whatever Level it achieved at the point of failure. A spacecraft that achieved its mission success and then died is still at Level 5.
    •  0  (Manifested): A launch date has been published. We don't keep track of missions until a launch date has been published. (And even then, we usually don't include them on the public database, below. Too much variability in launch dates/mission definitions before launch.)
    •  1  (Launched): The rocket began liftoff. (Launch failures usually stop at Mission Status 1.)
    •  2  (Deployed): The spacecraft is confirmed to have released from the launch vehicle.
    •  3  (Commissioning): The spacecraft has had at least one uplink and downlink. 
    •  4  (Primary operations): The spacecraft is taking actions that achieve primary mission success (i.e., receiving commands, downlinking mission data)
    •  5  (Mission success): Primary mission objectives have been met. The spacecraft may continue to operate, run secondary missions, etc.
  • Mission Type. Missions are categorized as follows:
    • C (Communications): The primary mission is to relay communications between two points. Amateur radio service and AIS tracking are common examples.
    • E (Educational): The primary mission is the education/professional training of the participants in the spacecraft design lifecycle. To be and E-class mission any science returns or technology demonstrations must be of secondary value to the education. Typically, E-class missions have no science or technology value, except to the mission developers themselves. E-class missions are also called "Beepsats", as they don't do anything but "beep" health & status data back to the ground.
    • I (Earth Imaging): The mission is to return images of the Earth for commercial and/or research purposes. Planet Labs' Dove constellation is the primary example.
    • M (Military): The mission has military relevance that does not properly fit in the other categories.
    • S (Science): The mission collects data for scientific research, including Earth science, atmospheric science, space weather, etc. To be S-class, there must be a clear connection between the data collected and end-user researchers; a spacecraft that measures the Earth's magnetic field and publishes the data on the web, hoping that some scientist will find the data useful, is not an S-class mission. (It's probably an E-class mission.)
    • T (Technology Demonstration): The mission involves the first flight of a new technology or capability, such that it is advanced one or more Technology Readiness Levels (or equivalent indicator). As with S-class missions, it is not enough to simply try out some new technology in space; there must be a clear, obvious process by which the behaviors of this new technology in orbit are validated.
  • Orbit Status. Indicates where the spacecraft currently resides
    • D (Deorbited): The spacecraft orbit has decayed, and it has re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.
    • O (On-orbit): The spacecraft has been deployed and is free-flying in orbit.
    • S (Stowed): The spacecraft has launched into orbit, but is still stowed inside its launch container. (ISS CubeSats can sit on station for months.)
    • L (Launch Failure): The spacecraft was lost to a launch failure. 
  • Class. The spacecraft class is the type of organization responsible for the design/construction/operation.
    • Civil (civ). Civilian government organization (e.g., NASA, JAXA, ESA).
    • Commercial (com). A private organization. If a contractor builds the spacecraft for another organization, then the satellite is classified as civil/military. And though Amateur satellites are by definition not commercial, AMSAT missions are classified here. (Sorry for the confusion.)
    • Military (mil). A government military/defense organization (e.g., the US Air Force).
    • University (uni). A university or other educational institution (including high schools). To be considered university-class, student education must be part of the core mission. Otherwise, if the university is contracted to build the spacecraft as if it were a professional organization, it will be classified under that organization.
  • Builder Type. Not all CubeSats are created equal, and you will get things very wrong if you assume that all CubeSats are the same. I have found it useful to subdivide the CubeSats by the characteristics of the builder. Mission types and success rates are VERY different across builder types.
    • Industrialists. Large, traditional space contractors who build high-performance spacecraft using standard practices. Industrialists are characterized by building high cost, long development time, high reliability spacecraft. In other words, you get what you pay for.
    • Hobbyists. Universities, secondary schools and others for whom this is an exciting opportunity to learn. Hobbyists are characterized by having low resources, a strong willingness to try risky approaches and -this should come as a surprise to no one - high failure rates.
    • Crafters. Also called “NewSpace” or “Smallsat”, crafters exist in the middle ground between hobbyists and industrialists. They have enough experience and capabilities to understand how to build & test space vehicles, but they are more accepting of risk than industrialists. Crafters are known for having well-performing spacecraft, relatively short development times and an aggressive risk posture.
    • Constellations. These builders have a very different objective; rather than trying to get one spacecraft to achieve a mission, they are trying to provide a continuous and/or distributed data service using many (dozens) of spacecraft. Because of this, the performance of one spacecraft has little bearing on the overall mission result. Planet and Spire are the most visible CubeSat constellations, but they are by no means the only ones.

Database

   Help us improve our database!aa

  • If you are involved with one of the missions, below, and want to correct/update our information, please fill out the Two-Minute CubeSat Survey, or contact me directly.
  • If a mission is missing from our database, use this form to notify us.

References