I am new both to CubeSats and to Stack Exchange.

I have recently started studying and planning on how to build a CubeSat, as cheaply as possible. I have read some blog posts and watched some videos, but I don't know exactly where to look for more technical knowledge, or what software/things should I learn.

I am studying Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering (2nd year). I don't want to perform a copy-paste project where you read a few things and build a replica. I want to have a more thorough knowledge.

But where can I start to get a better understanding of what the main issues are and the major tradeoffs that I'll have to look at in order to keep the cost down but to still have a functional CubeSat that can be launched?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Stack Exchange! I've added some tags and slightly adjusted the wording so that your first question better matches the site's style. Please check it and feel free to make further edits. There may be answers to previous questions that cover a lot of what you need to know, so if your question is suggested to be a duplicate don't worry. You can then explain what makes your question different, or decide that the other answers are already helpful enough. You can ask as many (good) questions as you like in Stack Exchange, and I guess you will probably have more! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 10 '20 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Thanks a lot. The question seems much better now. And thanks for the welcome and guidelines, I will keep them in mind. $\endgroup$ – Gurkirat Nov 10 '20 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ Assuming you're wanting to build a cubesat, the biggest question is "Why?" Realistically, building a cubesat isn't too difficult and anyone who has a degree in something like electrical engineering or adjacent fields should be able to pull it off. There are even places you can buy an almost-finished, just-add-your-payload cubesat systems. In fact, the entire cubesat architecture is intended to make bringing an experiment to space as easy as possible. I'd start with a function, and then design the rest of the satellite around it. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Nov 10 '20 at 21:35

Personal Suggestion - It's always best to learn by getting your hands dirty and since you are a student, do make an effort to start a Student Satellite Project in your college if it does not already have one.

With that being said, having been a part of one such endeavor in my college, I can disseminate whatever exposure I have gotten so far. I was a member of the ADCS (Attitude Determination and Control System) subsystem where I worked on the feasibility study of RCS thrusters, reaction wheels, magnetorquers, etc. to control the orientation of 1U CubeSat in space.

First, you need to be thorough with all the major subsystems -

  • Power and propulsion
  • Structure and thermal considerations
  • ADCS or GNC (Guidance, Navigation, and Control)
  • Avionics - electronics and software
  • Telemetry, tracking, and command
  • OBDH (On-Board Data Handling),
  • Payload - basically the purpose for which you want a CubeSat, which is a whole different ballgame and a critical one

The next thing would be to pick up the related skills. It is hard for a person to specialize in all of them, hence the need for a multi-disciplinary team. But as a leader (or a single person army, if you prefer), you need to have a working knowledge of each of them. On a broader sense that includes -

  • Mechanical Engineering skills - CAD modeling, structural analysis and simulation, heat transfer, material science, dynamics and control
  • Electrical/Electronics Engineering skills - power, propulsion, avionics (including electronic design automation), communication, signal processing, tracking station
  • Computer Science skills - on-board software development, simulations, mission control software, data analysis

Of course, the above list is not exhaustive. Here's a PDF for a brief introduction to the individual subsystems - Satellite Subsystems and here are some of the books from my own collection which you may find useful (read them when you have worked sufficiently on the aforementioned skills) - Resources for CubeSat.

There are a lot of Student Satellite Projects around the world, so I would suggest you look for them and read their reports. I highly appreciate this IIT Bombay Student Satellite Project wiki where they have documented their knowledge and experience from launching their first CubeSat 'Pratham'.

Hope this helps you to get started. If ever you run across some problem, Stack Exchange is always there to help. It's a wonderful community! Welcome :)

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    $\begingroup$ You see I never understood why do we need telemetry. And somewhere I read about 'bus'. I have no idea what does that mean either. $\endgroup$ – Gurkirat Nov 10 '20 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Gurkirat If you launch a CubeSat and then don't know what's happening with it or getting the data for which it is intended for, what then would be the use? It would be like launching a stone in space and then forgetting you ever launched anything. $\endgroup$ – OrangeDurito Nov 10 '20 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. It is really helpful. I don't know if you know this, but the drive links which you have provided are all private. Hence I cannot access them. $\endgroup$ – Gurkirat Nov 10 '20 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Gurkirat Ah sorry! I have changed the share setting for books folder and corrected the permission for subsystem PDF. It should work now. Let me know if you face any problem or need further help. $\endgroup$ – OrangeDurito Nov 11 '20 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much $\endgroup$ – Gurkirat Nov 11 '20 at 16:16

(This was going to be a comment rather than an "Answer", but it got long...)

I'll assume you have or can get the engineering skills, and give a few CubeSat-specific resources.

If you haven't seen it yet, NASA's CubeSat 101 has a lot of information about design, licensing, integration, and such. They don't give exhaustive detail there, but it maps out the territory so you know what to look for, and they have more specific resources, too.

You'll need a ground station to talk to your satellite. There are commercial ground station services like Leaf and Amazon Ground Station, or you can build your own and link it to the SatNOGS network. These options give you global coverage, as opposed to the more limited coverage if you build your own standalone station.

Off-the-shelf components are available, like solar cells, reaction wheels, structural parts, etc., so you can concentrate on mission-specific components. I can't evaluate the suppliers, but I have a soft spot for the name Pumpkin.

To get your cubesat up, you might get a free ride from NASA if your cubesat helps them to fulfill their own mission, as they describe in their CubeSats 101 book. United Launch Alliance has a competition to schools for free launches, that's from 2016. I don't know if there's anything more recent, but you can always contact them. Otherwise I think it's around \$250,000 to ride up in a dispenser on a Centaur. SpaceX and Rocket Lab are also in the business, Wikipedia suggests as low as \$100,000, but I haven't found specific links on short notice.

It's actually amazing how much support there is for you. It's still expensive, but space has never been cheaper or more accessible. I've never built or launched a satellite myself, I trust you'll soon know more about it than I do.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @Greg all of this helps me very much. But I was wondering, wouldn't commercial products be more expensive than in-house production? Because I would be on a very tight budget with this project, so I want it to be as cheap as possible. And I had one more question, will SatNOGS also provide a global network like the others you have mentioned? Thank you once again for helping me. $\endgroup$ – Gurkirat Nov 11 '20 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Gurkirat Whether to use commercial products depends on your situation. You might easily make your own structure but want to buy solar panels, for instance. And I would trust commercial reaction wheels to be more reliable than something I could build myself. And it's not enough that it just work on the bench, it has to survive environmental testing. But it totally depends on what you can and are willing to do. And SatNOGS basically offers free worldwide access for making your own contribution to the network. You may have to schedule your time in advance. $\endgroup$ – Greg Nov 11 '20 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Gurkirat Speaking of scheduling, You would normally have your launch scheduled way in advance, maybe more than a year in advance, and build to that launcher's requirements. Nothing about space is not meticulously planned out ahead of time. $\endgroup$ – Greg Nov 11 '20 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ Sir, yes sir (@Greg). Thank you for your support. You all are nicer than... You know who. $\endgroup$ – Gurkirat Nov 11 '20 at 19:26

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