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On the verge of an astronomy CubeSat revolution


CubeSats are small satellites built in standard sizes and form factors, which have been growing in popularity but have thus far been largely ignored within the field of astronomy. When deployed as space-based telescopes, they enable science experiments not possible with existing or planned large space missions, filling several key gaps in astronomical research. Unlike expensive and highly sought after space telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope, whose time must be shared among many instruments and science programs, CubeSats can monitor sources for weeks or months at time, and at wavelengths not accessible from the ground such as the ultraviolet, far-infrared and low-frequency radio. Science cases for CubeSats being developed now include a wide variety of astrophysical experiments, including exoplanets, stars, black holes and radio transients. Achieving high-impact astronomical research with CubeSats is becoming increasingly feasible with advances in technologies such as precision pointing, compact sensitive detectors and the miniaturization of propulsion systems. CubeSats may also pair with the large space- and ground-based telescopes to provide complementary data to better explain the physical processes observed.

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Fig. 1: A histogram counting the number of CubeSats launched each year.
Fig. 2: The Earth’s atmospheric windows include visible light and high-frequency radio waves.
Fig. 3



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E.L.S. wrote this Perspective in its entirety, but very much appreciated helpful comments from A. Dragushan, D. Jacobs and D. Ardila.

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Correspondence to Evgenya L. Shkolnik.

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Shkolnik, E.L. On the verge of an astronomy CubeSat revolution. Nat Astron 2, 374–378 (2018).

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