We're building a 3U CubeSat and have concerns about a ceramic PCB used in one of our experiments. Since ceramics have such a high melting temperature, we're not sure if the heat transfer during re-entry will happen quickly enough to disintegrate it. Obviously, this raises some questions from a legal perspective. Does anyone know about the liability and insurance requirements for CubeSats (in Canada, specifically)? Are there any resources that could point me in the right direction? Any help would be appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ I added some tags but couldn't fit regulatory but then I realized that your question is about the liability aspects of somebody getting hit by a ceramic circuit board from space, and not about the regulations that apply to cubesat construction and the paperwork you need to file about it burning up safely. You might consider asking a separate question about those regulations and about the survivability of ceramic components in general. It would be a good materials question as well as a good regulatory question. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Dec 17 '20 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ i think the chances of someone getting hit by a circuit board surviving reentry with no heat shield is very small $\endgroup$ – Topcode Dec 17 '20 at 3:20
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to SE! I am Canadian, and still contribute to a university cubesat project. You may try and reach out to the intermediate company that will handle the logistics of the cubesat launch. If you plan on launching from ISS, you can directly ask Nanoracks, or Spaceflight Industries, they are both companies specializaing in launch services. You will most likely get the best asnwers from them. Please remember that you can answer you own question here as well, and let us know about what you found out, I am interested to know as well! $\endgroup$ – Manny Dec 17 '20 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the help everyone! A couple of other teammates are looking into it for me now. I'll make a new answer with what we find out. $\endgroup$ – Elian Dupre Dec 21 '20 at 21:48

If re-entry heat destroys most of the cubesat, leaving only the circuit board intact, its flat shape will likely make it tumble and flutter down to earth intact, at a low terminal velocity, without much more heating or aerodynamic load. You could directly measure that speed (at least near the earth, where atmosphere is denser) by dropping it from a big kite or a tall bridge, and thereby estimate the damage its impact might cause.

If that's still too fast, give the board some weak points -- perforated lines like a matzo cracker -- to help it break into smaller parts with even slower terminal velocity and less kinetic energy.

Randall Munroe gives a good overview of re-entry of unusual items, and quotes a simulation:

calculations by Justin Atchison and Mason Peck have shown that an object shaped like a sheet of paper, curved to fall flat side first, could in theory enter the atmosphere “softly” without ever reaching especially high temperatures.

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    $\begingroup$ (And I'm also a Canadian! Quite the invisible minority, we are.) $\endgroup$ – Camille Goudeseune Dec 17 '20 at 17:50

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