A TubeSat is a (very) low-cost alternative to the CubeSat
Interorbital Systems (IOS), a rocket and spacecraft construction company founded in 1996, is ready to fulfill its 2009 goal of making access to space available to all. Well, at least to anyone who can afford a motorcycle. For US$8K, IOS provides the TubeSat Personal Satellite (PS) Kit, complete with launch to low Earth orbit (LEO).
In the last decade, interest in picosatellites, or satellites weighing less than about a kilogram, has been increasing rapidly. A TubeSat is a (very) low-cost alternative to the CubeSat, which is currently the leading picosatellite standard. Nearly 100 CubeSats have been built and launched. (Not all launches were successful.)
A CubeSat is essentially that – a nearly cube shaped satellite measuring 10x10x10 cm (3.9×3.9×3.9 in), although they are scalable along one axis – with a total mass of less than 1.33 kg (2.9 lb). The basic structure of a CubeSat is about 0.4 kg (0.9 lb), so a 0.9 kg (2 lb) payload can be accommodated. CubeSats have been proposed for everything from simple radio transponders to interplanetary missions. Despite their popularity, CubeSats are not inexpensive – by the time you have assembled a CubeSat and had it placed in orbit, your cost will be well north of US$100K, a fortune compared to IOS’s cost of US$8000.
The far more affordable TubeSat, oddly enough, has a hexadecagonal (16-sided) cross-section rather than the circular form one might expect from the name. This allows it flat surfaces on which to mount solar cells. A TubeSat has an outside diameter of 8.94 cm (3.52 inches), an inside diameter of 8.56 cm (3.37 inches), and is 12.7 cm (5 inches) long. The maximum mass of a TubeSat is 0.75 kg (1.65 lb). As the TubeSat with the standard electronics (power, communications, and microcomputer) installed weighs 0.5 kg (1.1 pounds), any additional payload must weigh no more than 0.25 kg (0.55 lb), and must occupy no more than about 5 cm (2 in) of the length of the tube – a payload volume of 288 cc (17.6 cubic inches).
The finished TubeSat is launched to self-decaying orbits roughly 310 kilometers (193 miles) in altitude, where it will remain in orbit for several weeks (the duration depends on the exact orbit and on solar weather conditions). They will not add to the orbital debris problem.
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