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- Something new is coming to 3DPrinting.org. A new focus on education and placing a 3D Printer in every school that wants one. Stay tuned!
A CubeSat is a small satellite with a standardized set of physical characteristics. Its length, width, and height are 10 cm and it weighs less than 1.33 kg. This standardized size and weight, was established by California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University in 1999. The idea was to reduce the cost and time required to piggyback a research satellite onto a launch vehicle that carries a larger primary payload.
This reduction in cost opened the way for academia to perform their own research in space. Since all CubeSats are identical in size and weight, they are completely interchangeable. This allows for fast payload exchanges. Launches can also be arranged on relatively short notice compared to the time windows of non standardized payloads.
CubeSats have also caught the attention of companies such as Boeing as well as the military. However, both civilian and military developers face a common problem with CubeSats: how to pack more functionality into a very limited space and how to drive down manufacturing time and costs. Aerospace 3d printing is a technology that is well suited for this.
Notable research in the use of 3D printing with CubeSat development include the University Of Kentucky and Morehead State University's successful launch of a CubeSat built with printed parts. One of their goals is to test how well high performance printed parts work in the vacuum of space. In the same vein, the University Of Texas at El Paso has launched a CubeSat with 3D printed electronics into space, further demonstrating the potential of 3D printing technology.
The CubeSat is making access to space more obtainable. Academia has been taking advantage of this for years. Even the military wants cheap access to space via CubeSats to test new technology. They are also interested in sending up swarms of CubeSats which will perform surveillance over broader geographic areas and will distribute functionality across the entire swarm.
In the coming years, the cost of CubeSat manufacture and deployment will continue to drop, thanks to aerospace 3D printing and to rocket development companies like SpaceX.