CubeSats: Tiny, Versatile Spacecraft Explained (Infographic)
For years, tiny payloads have been launched into Earth orbit on satellites smaller than a loaf of bread.
Credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

The CubeSat program began in 1999 as a collaboration between California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University. The goal was to design a standard for picosatellites, tiny Earth-orbiting boxes usually with a volume of about 61 cubic inches (1 liter) and a mass of about 2.9 lbs. (1.33 kilograms).

CubeSats are built in a variety of sizes, from 1U (one unit) up to three-plus units. Rails on the edges smooth the ride as the satellite is ejected from the P-POD deployer. Rectangular access doors are arrayed down the side of the satellite.

Future CubeSats will go deeper into space than any CubeSats have gone before.

INSPIRE (Interplanetary NanoSpacecraft Pathfinder In Relevant Environment): The first cubesats to be boosted out of Earth orbit, INSPIRE will orbit up to 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth during a three-month mission.

NEA SCOUT uses an 860-square-foot (80 square meters) solar sail to cruise out to a near-Earth asteroid, demonstrating a low-cost method of deep-space reconnaissance.
 
LUNAR FLASHLIGHT remains in lunar orbit, and reflects sunlight off its shiny solar sail to illuminate the permanently shadowed bottoms of deep lunar craters for easier examination by spacecraft and telescopes.

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