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"CubeSats, being conceptualized as FOSH-like technology from the start, can be seen as scientific tools that space researchers often fabricate themselves. The main difference with other experimental scientific research tools is that, once a CubeSat is finished and launched into orbit, it is never to be seen again on Earth, while the scientists that designed and manufactured the nano-satellite should control and evaluate the experiment from the ground.

A CubeSat is a ten centimeter cube [1U] nano-satellite with a mass of approximately one kilogram, as it is defined in the CubeSat Design Specification (CSD) that set the open source architecture standards for CubeSats as a joint venture between California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) and Stanford University’s Space Systems Development Laboratory since the year 1999. (Swartwout 2013; Hevner et al. 2011; Mehrparvar et al. 2014; Toorian Diaz and Lee 2008, Ampatzoglou et al. 2014) The documentation to build up a CubeSat is freely accessible online, as the CubeSat program aims to provide inexpensive access to space for small payloads (Mehrparvar et al. 2014; Toorian et al. 2005) mediated by collaborating networks of students, amateurs, practitioners, small and medium size business, and with low construction and launching costs and a reduced development time for space experiment platforms, (Straub 2012; Shiroma et al. 2011; Woellert et al. 2011; Heidt et al. 2000) contributing to open the access to space research for small and developing nations. (Carrara et al. 2017; Straub 2012; Woellert et al. 2011; Toorian Diaz and Lee 2008)

According to Koenig (2004) and Zimmermann (2014), an open source initiative has better chances to become a platform and establish an standard in its industry, although a dual licensing represents a better starting point towards fully open sourcing hardware (ibid.), like in the case of complex scientific tools as CubeSats that are often developed by inexperienced amateur teams. There is no consensus on the current state of space research in the area of CubeSats; Selva and Krejci (2012) argue that in few years CubeSats should have outgrown its initial educational purposes to become “a standard platform for technology demonstration and scientific instrumentation”, while for Wollellert et al. (2011) CubeSats are still in its early stages of development.

Regarding existing academic literature documenting the use of OSH in CubeSats, Kief et al. (2011) describe a Space Plug-and-play Architecture (SPA) concept of rapid satellite development built completely from commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) parts over an open-source bus architecture; Scholtz and Juang (2015) apply a theoretical framework for the OSH application to CubeSats, describing “an increasing number of CubeSat missions that claim to be open source” (ibid.) while they are merely integrating open source modules into their CubeSat design, although they find a prototypical case of open-source CubeSat in LibreCube’s design initiative that “provides information on the LibreCube framework, recommended and applicable standards, naming conventions, and other resources” (ibid.); Ampatzoglou et al. 2014 document the “design, structural analysis, and qualification by analysis and experimental validation” (ibid.) of the Greek open-source CubeSat UPSat, developed by University of Patras and Libre Space Foundation (LSF) in what seems to be, as far as the knowledge of the author goes, the only launched open-source CubeSat that have been documented by academic publications.

An important aspect that have helped CubeSats to become so popular is ridesharing. Rideshares are shared ‘piggyback’ rides as secondary loads in standardized slots in space launchers. In the same fashion that so-called ‘sharing economy’ startup companies have developed platforms to share car rides, rideshares allow to reduce launching costs by sharing the costs with other CubeSats or complementing primary payloads that are not using all the payload space available in a rocket (Swartwout 2011), open up affordable options to launch low-budget educational CubeSats."


By Lucas Lemos and Chris Giotitsas:

“A CubeSat is a one unit (1U) 10-centimetre side cube-shaped satellite. By combining the volume of two or more 1U CubeSats, the size of the CubeSat can be arithmetically increased (2U, 3U, nU). CubeSats are based on an open source architecture standard known as the CubeSat Design Specification (CDS; Mehrparvar et al., 2014; Swartwout, 2013; Toorian et al., 2008). CubeSats carry payloads—tech nological artefacts intended to be tested/demonstrated with the mission, like a camera or a propulsion system.

A CubeSat is like “a box” with two distinctive features. First, it ticks all the formal requirements to be loaded in a rocket launcher and safely deployed into orbit. Second, it is designed to operate in the extreme conditions of outer space, protecting its content. Besides the protective shield of the “space box” container, and its contained artefacts (payloads), a CubeSat needs to perform other functions to be operative. These operative functions (e.g., navigation, communication) are organized in different subsystems (e.g., attitude determination and control system, communications system) based on specific hardware (e.g., gyroscopic sensors, microstrip antenna; Ehrpais et al., 2016; Slavinskis et al., 2016).

As a means to safely launch the payloads that constitute the CubeSat mission objective (test/demonstrate technology artefacts), CDS provides a frugal platform for prototyping space technology. Its construction, development, and launching costs are relatively low, with shorter technology development periods (Selva & Krejci, 2012; Woellert et al., 2011). CDS is open to everyone, and it has been very beneficial to startups, universities, developing states, and communities (Woellert et al., 2011). In the next section, we are going to examine what makes technology complex, and how technology complexity can be conceptualized.”