Are CubeSats Going to Survive New Competition in the Satellite World?

13th Sep 2021
Are CubeSats Going to Survive New Competition in the Satellite World?

Cubesats are small satellites manufactured into cubic form, obviously. Their form factor and weight – between 10 and 20 kilos – made them the most popular smallsats ever manufactured. Not only are they in high demand, but this demand was growing exponentially. The first CubeSat was launched in 1997, and that was it for the whole year. Recently, around 100 CubeSats have been flown annually.

But today, the demand has shifted to heavier satellites, which are still considered small, weighing about 50 to 200 kilos. The boost of the so-called super micro-satellites has started with the creation and launch of the SpaceX Starlink units.

The History of Small Satellites: Is CubeSats’ Time Up?

In early August, Siegfried Janson, who used to work for Aerospace Corporation, spoke at the 35th Annual Small Satellite Conference. He divided the history of small satellites into three eras:

  • When there was no other choice — The Early Era
  • When large satellites were used more — The Later Era
  • The New Space Era that is lasting for about three decades.

The third era has been dominated by CubeSats, but is it over just yet?

Experts and Providers are Optimistic About the CubeSats’ Future

The experts claim it’s too early for that change. There are two sides to the coin: the growth of CubeSats has slowed down drastically, and, at the same time, there is still the demand for them. For instance, they are still perfect for technology demonstrations. Plus, the number of launch providers that are ready to deal with CubeSats isn’t decreasing. According to Jordi Puig-Suari, the professor of California Polytechnic State University and the co-inventor of CubeSats, a provider doesn’t have to conduct any analysis before they are filled. Besides, this can be done at the last moment.

John Fuller, Director of Advanced Concepts of Virgin Orbit, agrees. He says that a beginner launch provider has no better option than a CubeSat. He knows what he is saying since the two debut LauncherOne’s payloads were satellites of this kind.

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