JPL is leading the way in exploring the scientific potential of small satellites.


So far, the scientific possibilities of CubeSats haven’t been well explored. JPL is working to change that by harnessing its more than 50 years of experience with spacecraft to develop groundbreaking scientific instruments and technology.

CubeSat Instrumentation: Powerful Payloads and High Scientific Return

JPL has long been a world leader in developing instrumentation for collecting data on everything from Titan’s rivers to distant exoplanets. A major emphasis of JPL’s CubeSat efforts has been to adapt these technologies to work with the CubeSat form factor and CubeSat-level budgets.

Already, JPL has made important breakthroughs in miniaturizing instruments. Powerful technologies used for major space missions -- magnetometers, spectrometers, cameras, and radiometers -- have been reduced to CubeSat-compatible sizes while maintaining comparable (and sometimes more) power than the previous generation of instruments.

In one notable example, JPL engineers managed to reduce the size of a magnetometer used on the Cassini mission to the size of a fist. Innovations like these will have a game-changing impact on the scientific possibilities for small, low-cost spacecraft.

Small Satellite Technology: Giving Small Spacecraft Big Capabilities

Most previous CubeSat missions have been confined to low-Earth orbit. JPL is pioneering the technology that will allow them to go farther and do more than ever before.

The Lab’s deep technical expertise and mature infrastructure are ideal for developing and supporting small satellites with interplanetary and deep space capabilities. JPL has developed CubeSat-sized radios capable of using the Deep Space Network, which is being utilized by by a wide range of mission, from Mars rovers to the Voyager spacecraft. And JPL has made unparalleled progress in developing extremely small, radiation-hardened computers that can survive these distant journeys.

A major draw of the CubeSat platform for science is its low cost, and JPL is working to adapt these new technologies to a variety of budgets. JPL’s deep space telemetry data and trajectory design technologies are scalable based on budget and scientific requirements, and new technology designs have a strong emphasis on cost-effectiveness.