Cubesats can pose some unique challenges; they are small and so potentially a little harder to track, have larger area/mass so more subject to forces that can change their trajectories, are often less reliable and are more frequently DOA or "go dark" more often, and usually have little or no ability to maneuver.

At the same time they do undergo substantial scrutiny before launch and except for some special ones built by space agencies are put into predetermined low Earth orbits where they'll decay and reenter in a relatively short period of time.

Question: Has a cubesat ever caused a problem for another spacecraft?

For example, I remember somewhere on this site a mention of a problem with magnets in one cubesat causing trouble from an adjacent cubesat during deployment, and that would count if someone can find it.

But it would be more interesting to hear about a pranksat or one that accidentally hit a spy satellite on it's way to reenter the atmosphere.

And problems don't have to involve contact; if a cubesat's trajectory forced another spacecraft to undergo an unplanned collision avoidance maneuver, that would count as well.


1 Answer 1


You mention the only one I have heard of:

Question: Has a cubesat ever caused a problem for another spacecraft?

M-Cubed was launched in the Fall of 2011 on the NASA's third Educational Launch of Nanosat (ELaNa-3).

After deployment, M-Cubed/COVE stayed magnetically attached to another cubesat, E1P U2 (HRBE). The exact cause of the conjunction is unknown, and it is hypothesized that it was caused by the magnets in both satellites.

Both CubeSats include a permanent magnet for passive attitude control. While alive and transmitting, the project team hasn't been able to command the spacecraft. The hypothesis is, that this is due to a de-tuned antenna given the close proximity of HRBE. HRBE did not suffer due to this connection.

Following launch, E1P Flight Unit 2 was renamed the Hiscock Radiation Belt Explorer (HRBE) in honor of Dr. William A. Hiscock, founder of the Montana Space Grant Consortium.

It was quickly discovered that SSEL could not command HRBE, due to the width of the front-end receiver. To compensate for the wide front end, the ground station was upgraded to include a 1.5 kW UHF amplifier in January 2012.

Nearly three years later (2015), HRBE is still operating as well as the day it was launched. It continues to beacon around the world and monitor energetic particles in Earth’s radiation belts.







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