If you are in an educational or research organization and want to join the field of satellite development, a cubesat is your answer. Cubesats are small, governed by the cubesat standard and inexpensive, costing less to launch than larger satellites. However, you may wonder what your payload will consist of. What will you send up into space?
The answer to this question depends completely on your future plans, your resources and your expertise. For example, in the case of a university located in a developing country, the satellite could just be an experiment to test and hone their ability to design and develop a spacecraft. A satellite could be programmed with the ability to send a beacon signal with health data that is coded on it, or be outfitted with temperature sensors to record useful data for future missions.
Another option is to outfit the satellite with an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). An IMU is particularly useful if the flight control of the cubesat is passive, which is usually the case in the premier launch of a university’s cubesat. The IMU’s data can prove to be very useful in the future design and control cubesat missions.
Cubesats are also excellent for carrying out experiments with homemade modules, especially in the case of imaging payload. There are several imaging sensors, both CCD and CMOS, available that can be added to the satellite. The main reason for designing your own imaging board is that they are an easier and safer option for someone who is building and testing their first satellite.
With a low cost and low power imaging module images of earth and space can be obtained and sent back to a ground station through a communication link. These images can be an excellent way to get others interested in participating in this area of satellite development.
Other ideas for a first time cubesat mission could include the space qualification of certain electronic components, testing of a flight control system or even some types of biological experiments.
In the case of a developing country with budget constraints, establishing a communication link between a ground station and space might be just the thing they need to enter the space race which can be achieved with a cubesat. This will give students and researchers a complete understanding of the satellite development process and will enhance their skills and motivation for designing more useful missions with more complex payloads.
In the case of developed countries and labs which have an abundance of resources, the cubesat data could be collected from the total space mission. For example, a cubesat could be built and launched to test something that will then be implemented on a larger satellite. So that the cubesat becomes a way to test and demonstrate a new technology. Also more than one cubesat, or infact a constellation of cubesats could be built to carry out a larger mission which might include surveillance and remote sensing through inter-satellite communication.
In conclusion, the satellite mission depends on who you are, what you want and your resources. Assess the whole process before finalizing the mission of your first cubesat.Good Luck!