Research in Engineering and Aviation

Attack of the CubeSats: a statistical look

August 2011

Author(s): Swartwout, M.A.

“Attack of the CubeSats: a statistical look”, 25th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan, UT, 9 August 2011, Paper SSC11-XI-04.


In previous conferences, we have presented a statistical history of university-class small satellites. Those studies need to be revised, because university-class spacecraft have reached a significant inflection point: in 2010-2011, we can identify a strong trend towards independent schools flying “real” CubeSat missions. For that trend, we must credit NASA and ESA for their sponsorship of competitively-selected CubeSat flights.

For this paper, we will revise previous studies in two ways:

  1. Include the results of the past two years, which will show a continued upward trend in the number of university- class missions, a continued downward trend in the size of the spacecraft, and a not-so-continued dominance of the flagship universities. Have we hit a second turning point in the history of CubeSats, where they switch from novelties to actually-useful missions? (The preliminary answer: maybe.)
  2. Expand the study to consider other small spacecraft mission types: specifically the professionally-built CubeSats. We will perform side-by-side comparison of the two.

The results will be used in a brave but ultimately naive attempt to predict the next few years in university-class and CubeSat-class flights: numbers, capabilities, and mix of participants.