CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft that are a sort of nano-satellite. The cube-shaped satellites are approximately four inches long, have a volume of about one quart and weigh about 3 pounds. They sometimes clip two or three together to contain more monitoring and com links. A U-1 CubeSat is just one 3 pound four inch square satellite,while a U-2 or U-3 is the number of CubeSats clipped together. It is housed in a big square container at the outer side of the main launch vehicle once in space. This container acts like a sort of pea pod called a Nanosatellite Launch Adaptor System (NLAS.) When it opens, these small CubeSats are released like peas floating out over the stratosphere or where ever else the project owner’s might wish to take them. CubeSats have been used to patrol around space stations or satellites to search for malfunctions or other damage. They can gently breeze the length of solar panels and check that all is well, even report minor cracks that can be tackled more immediately in case a blemish develops and becomes more substantial.
NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative(CSLI) provides opportunities for small satellite payloads (CubeSats) to fly on rockets planned for upcoming launches. These CubeSats are flown as auxiliary and minor ventures upon previously planned and ulterior missions. They are a collection of small independent auxiliary projects that may leave the host launch and go off in search of knowledge in a number of fields. They might photograph Earth and study weather conditions, search independently for asteroids, look at the moon, Mars, Venus. Watch test samples in a space vacuum. There are all sorts of things. For a school or university to win the chance of controlling a CubeSat, they have to pass stringent tests via NASA monitors - people that judge how each project is viable, and also of use to NASA. For they will have access to all information gathered by each CubeSat before the information goes down to the school or university that wins the project.
There are already many CubeSats in orbit and a growing number of projects already in motion. NASA gets useful free information by allowing these independent CubeSats, which are really just parasite travellers on the main launch project. In return many good things in smallpackages come NASA’s way. Everyone wins when this experimental information starts to come in. They can cost between $65,000 and $80,000 a CubeSat. If there is a launch that can carry four or five CubeSats, NASA gets a little of the cost back towards the main mission and a potential amount of updated and free information. It also insures that they have growing and enthusiastic candidates for future space exploration technology.
These wonderful little parasitical space craft will develop over the decades and all launches might be able to lower funding costs by accommodating CubeSat projects. NASA may find ways to lower costs of building launch projects too, especially with developing re-usable craft like the Orion MPCV. Every time an Orion launch goes up it will have a main project, but depending on how many CubeSat projects at odd $65,000 + it can get aboard; I wonder if re-launchable MPCV could claw back substantial finances against original costs of building main launch projects. Imagine the return in the shape of four inch cubes. Also not to forget long term return and free information updates. NASA may have stumbled upon large numbers of independent projects lining up to be selected and waiting to hand over the money to get a CubeSat into space.