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The stuff of which COTS cubesats are made (aluminum, silicon, G10/FR-4, battery) has a density in the ballpark of 2 to 3 (g/cm^3) while vacuum is roughly 0. I'd always figured that cubesats built from COTS parts would have a fill-factor of about 1/2 to 1/3 and so end up with the density of roughly 1 kg per U.

Then I saw this cool 2011 paper An Evaluation of CubeSat Orbital Decay linked in @s-m-e's cool answer and saw the plot below.

Since 2011 there has been a real "explosion" of cubesat designs and deployments, and for that to happen masses would likely be tabulated somewhere.

Are there any more recent tabulations of cubesat specs out there that could be used to estimate a better value for mass per U or trend of mass vs U count?

Especially interesting would be any data for the 6U's!


Source Oltrogge & Leveque 25th AIAA Conf. Smallsats paper SSC11-VII-2

enter image description here

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Unfortunately, www.nanosats.eu does not include mass in kilograms for CubeSats. Most teams do not publish exact mass values or they are rounded in a significant and unknown way for simplicity. Apart from maybe a few dozen individual presentations and publications, only way to know would be to ask directly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Exactly what @ErikK said. Good luck finding actual mass values that have not been rounded. Even Gunter's Space Page - probably the single most reliable source out there - will often have masses wrong and/or rounded. Rounding to the nearest kg for a 1000 kg satellite is no big deal, for CubeSats it breaks your analysis. $\endgroup$ – Carlos N Feb 27 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ To expand my previous comment: if Gunter's Space Page or Swartwout's CubeSat Database doesn't have the info you need, then you'll have to spend hundreds of hours acquiring it. Those two have done all the hard work already. $\endgroup$ – Carlos N Feb 27 at 14:43
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I am lacking the time - but this should be fairly easy to compute by yourself: The required data is available in a number of cubesat tables / databases such as nanosats.eu. Mass and number of units are not always available next to each other, so you'll have to join data from a few sources ...

If I find some time, I am going to edit in a graph.

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    $\begingroup$ I think there is no rush in this case, thanks! nanosats.eu is quite a snazzy table, but unfortunately it has only one column labeled U or mass making it difficult to plot mass vs U. But you are right there are others. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 26 '18 at 8:25

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