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Ultra-compact design of Earth observation payload

for Cubesat micro-satellite: limitations and decisions.

Satbyul Co, Ltd is a private aerospace company in South Korea.
We participate in the development of several ultra-small Earth
observation satellites in CubeSat format with different ground
sample distances (22m, 4m, 2.5m) and form factors (3U, 6U, 12U).
Compact designs and relatively low budgets bring a lot of challenges
and require innovative decisions.
Some physical limitations must be clearly known.
Other limitations are technical and can be worked around
by using special optical and optomechanical design with
low tolerances at the wide temperature range,
using of COTs components and unusual technologies,
the specific design of the “satellite around the payload”,
unusual structure of electronics.
Mikhail Ryazanskiy ( )
Il H. Park
Mariia Tumarina
Nikolay Vedenkin
Illustrations are partially taken from Internet
Satellite Earth Observation

1. General planning: what we CAN get?

Orbits and targeting, resolution, wavebands.

2. Satellite Earth Observation – workflow.

Tasking, programming, picturing, downlink, processing

3. Limitations
Orbital, optical, downlink speed, other.

4. Design of ultra-small Earth observation satellites.

Samples and tricks

5. Questions.
Orbit types

Sun-synchronous orbit:
Flight at the same local time
over the same latitude line
Ultra-small EO satellite design: orbital limitations
Earth observation:
medium to high resolution  low Earth orbit (LEO), under Van Allen radiation belts
the same resolution of all places  circular LEO, apogee height ≈ perigee height
the same time of photo the same place  Sun-synchronous polar orbit.
the lower orbit – the simpler to obtain high resolution pictures.

Upper limit of height of orbit is ~1000km

(lower than inner Van Allen radiation belt).
Total radiation dose ≈ 1K Rad/year
Radiation protection is poor
because of small weight and size of Cubesat.
Lower limit of height of orbit is ~350km
Orbit needs to be high enough for suitable lifetime
before deorbiting due to atmospheric drag.
Height (circular orbit) ≤200km 300km 400km 500km ≥600km
Approximate lifetime, days <3 <20 90-200 >500 >2000
So most EO Cubesat fly at circular orbit at height from 400 to 600km.
Some tricks:
Low resolution (1km/pixel) – can fly even at HEO (for example, meteo tasks).
High resolution, short lifetime – can photo several days from 200km orbit or from elliptical orbit
with 1000km apogee and even 100km perigee. But satellite will deorbit in 3-10 days.
Orbital elements and Sun-synchronous orbit.
The Six Keplerian Elements [1]
a = Semi-major axis (apogee radius)
e = Eccentricity (of the elliptical orbit; =0 for circular)
v = True anomaly The angle between perigee
and satellite in the orbital plane at a specific time
i = Inclination The angle between the orbital
and equatorial planes
Ω = Right Ascension (longitude) of the ascending node
The angle from the Vernal Equinox vector
to the ascending node on the equatorial plane
w = Argument of perigee The angle between
the ascending node and perigee

Nodal regression Sun-synchronous orbit

Use nodal regression to shift the ascending node 360° per year.
Scans the same path under the same lighting conditions each day.
Requires a slightly retrograde orbit
(Inclination = 97.56° for a 550km / 15-orbit SSO).
Each subsequent pass is 24° farther west (if 15 orbits per day).
Repeats the pattern on the 16th orbit (or fewer for higher altitude).
Earth Observation: Terminology


Shooting angle
angle (pitch/roll) FOV (pitch/roll)


Earth Observation: Operation modes
Shooting track Shot №3 (with pitch tracking)
(parallel track)
route Shot №2
complex route
Shot №1

Swath Route
width Swath (shot)
(strip) Corridor
Swath of specific shape One or multiple target
along sub-satellite point along sub-satellite point

Area shot №3 Area shot №4

Shot №2 stereopair Area shot №2

Shot №1 stereopair
Area shot №1

Stereo base

Route Route
(stereo strip) (areal)

Stereo Area
Multiple shots of same target Area mapping.
from several points of view Swath along sub-satellite point
Cubesat EO payload design: Focal length and GSD
Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) is the distance
(measured on the ground) between the centers of small areas,
imaged to the adjacent pixels of the sensor.
ps: Sensor pixel size Focal length of satellite optics
and sensor pixel size
EFL: Focal length are connected with GSD
and with height of orbit
GSD = HO by simple proportion.
ps EFL

Picture size at ground is

size of sensor (in pixels)
HO: Height multiplied by GSD
of Orbit
Swath_width =
GSD = GSD * sensor_width(pix)

Additionally, exposure time is usually upper-limited by period of time needed for 1-pixel-shift the picture
due to orbital motion of satellite, and can be easily calculated. Several useful samples shown in the table:
Orbit height / Orbital period 400km : 5554sec 600km : 5801sec
GSD, m 22 5 2,5 1 22 5 2,5 1
EFL (3.1um pixel sensor), mm 56 248 496 1240 84,5 372 744 1860
EFL (3.7um pixel sensor), mm 67 296 592 1480 101 444 888 2220
EFL (5.5um pixel sensor), mm 100 440 880 2200 150 660 1320 3300
Speed of nadir point 7216 m/s 6908 m/s
1-pixel-shift time, ms 3,05 0,69 0,35 0,139 3,18 0,72 0,36 0.145
EO resolution: diffraction limit
R_Airy = 1.22 * La * EFL / Dap Where: R_Airy – Airy radius (radius of diffraction spot
with 85% energy inside; resolution limit);
GR = HO * R_Airy / EFL La – wavelength; Assume 510nm (green);
EFL – effective focal length of optic;
GR = 1.22 * La * HO / Dap Dap – aperture of optic (light diameter);
HO – Distance (Height of Orbit);
GR – Ground resolution (projection of Airy
radius to the object plane (ground));

Orbit Form-factor:Real aperture limit 3U, 6U: Dap<90mm 12U, 16U: Dap<225mm
height Theoretical Diffraction limit of resolution @550nm / @650nm / optimistic reality
400km GR(in meters) ≈ 250 / Dap (in mm) 3,0m / 3.5m / 4.9m 1,1m / 1,4m / 1.7-2m
600km GR(in meters) ≈ 375 / Dap (in mm) 4,5m / 5.3m / 7.5m 1,7m / 2,12m / 2.5-3m
Some trick: Resolution can be enhanced (for marketing purposes) by 25% using “digital enhancement” -
sharpening really help to resolve targets.
Cubesat EO payload design: diffraction limit and PSF
Assume that sensor pixel size is the same as R_Airy (so, 4pixels/spot),
calculate the possible EFL and F-numbers for several lenses (inside 100mm diameter):
Focal length, mm EFL 800 600 500 400 300 250 200 150 100
F-number FN F/10 F/8 F/6,3 F/5,6 F/4 F/3 F/2,5 F/1,8 F/1,2
Aperture, mm Dap 80 75 79 71 75 83 80 83 83
(sensor pixel size less than:)
Airy radius, um (@510nm) R_Airy=1,22*0,51um*EFL/Dap 6,22 4,98 3,92 3,48 2,49 1,87 1,56 1,12 0,75
GSD, m (from 400km orbit) GSD_C = HO*R_Airy / EFL 3,1 3,3 3,1 3,5 3,3 3,0 3,1 3,0 3,0

So, select GSD the same as GR (without oversampling),

and sensor pixel size must be not bigger then Airy radius (to prevent undersampling and loss of resolution).
For colour matrix, the pixel size need to be between R_Airy/2 and R_Airy.
at left sample
the pixel size is
0.7 R_Airy

at right sample
the pixel size is
0.56 R_Airy
Point spread function (PSF):
energy distribution from point source
Satellite Earth Observation – spectral bands
Spectral energy distribution calculated from illuminance using eye sensitivity curve and spectral distribution
curve D65 (Daylight ISO 10526:1999), than convoluted with sensor quantum efficiency, than integrated over
each used wavelength band. Graphs show the number of electrons at sensor pixel (per lumen*second)

Name of band Aerosole Blue Green Red Red Edge NIR 1 Panchrome
Wavelength, nm 400-450 450-500 510-585 625-690 690-750 770-900 400-900
Quants/sec to pixel @1 lux 16800 25450 33450 28200 23250 45200 172000
Average quant. efficiency 0,194 0,248 0,281 0,250 0,224 0,103 0,208
Satellite Earth Observation – limitations

1. Revisiting time: how often each area of interest (AOI, target) appears in the field of view of some
satellite within the constellation.
(depends on Area_of_regard (depends on orbit altitude and off-nadir angle)),
and on Number and position of satellites in constellation).
Can be easily designed, and lower boundary for satellite number can be calculated.

2. Reimaging period: how often every defined target (from the whole set of AOI) will be exposed in fact.
(complicated dependence on size of each target and their relative positions,
and on swath width and retargeting speed and target-selection tactics,
and on number and orbital positions of satellites in constellation).
Very complex task for big set of medium-sized targets (as urban areas or coasts) and short periods - only boundaries
​can be estimated. For week period and big-sized AOI (as agricultural areas) number of satellites can be calculated.

3. Swath length: how long the satellite can take photos continuously and how many photos at one turn
(depends on energy limits per turn, and on Data Storage size, and
on lighting conditions (local solar elevation angle at target at the moment of shooting)).
The spacecraft is specially designed for this tasks, and we need only check that performance is not limited this way.

4. Downloading data performance: how much data can be sent to ground stations (GS) per day
(depends on downlink data speed (depends on onboard transmitter and link budget ( GS antenna gain)),
and on the total length of downlink sessions per day (depends on Number and position of Ground
stations)). Can be estimated with some assumption about transmitter and for some assumed sets of ground stations.

5. Visibility conditions: for each target from set – will this photo be clear enough for usage?
(depends on cloudiness, on local and average weather over target, and on seasonal Illumination).
Only statistical estimations can be done. But for number of high-latitude urban areas reimaging time can be more that
3 month in winter (due to low solar elevation), and for some subtropical areas – more than 3 weeks due to season rains.
System Performance: Reimaging time (for urban areas)
Task for example: regular (daily?) reimaging of all urban areas, based on Auriga ultra-small satellite constellation.
Definition of “Urbanised area” differ between sources.
1) Using the “area-based” approach by UNESCO “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision” and other sources
for “over-300K city” coordinates led to a large underestimation of number of satellite needed for daily reimaging.
The total size of “Urban, Industry & Transport Lands” estimated as 2.3million (by Russian Geographic Society [1]);
Urbans only estimated as 1.3 million by GRUMP/SEDAC [2]. This area size can be shooted and downloaded even
by one Auriga satellite per day (by volume) – but NOT by geometry of targeting!
2) Using GRUMP-based (and other sources) matrix of population density (with our custom-developed scripts) led to
significant overestimation of urbanized area (in terms of square km), with obvious errors in the locations of the northern cities.
System Performance: Reimaging time
Determination of targets: number of different approaches was tested.
3) Using MODIS-based matrix LAND_COVER_CLASSIFICATION_MCD12C1_T1_2011 is productive approach, but 2.5 arc.minutes
resolution images produce many losses inside and near city agglomerates, and using higher resolution data [3] requires
the development of specific software (for modelling the tactics of target selection and retargeting).

4) Good land-classification sources were found [4, 5]

and can be used for analyzing possibilities of reimaging rate.
System Performance: Reimaging time

Land cover map of Detroit area

7 swath of 25km width needed.
So at Detroit latitude ~42.5deg.N
we need 16.5 “satellite-days” to
each re-imaging of whole Detroit.
Satellite Earth Observation orbit - parameters
OA Altitude of orbit, km 470 500 600 685 800 892 1000
OP Period of orbit, sec 5640 5677 5801 5908 6052 6169 6307
Full turns per day 15 15 14 14 14 14 13
Orbit shift per day, % of step between turns 31.9% 21,9% 83,0% 62,5% 27.5% 0.5% 69.9%
Speed of nadir point, m/s 7106 7059 6908 6784 6621 6496 6354
Coverage width, km (shooting angle = 15.6°) 262 279 335 383 447 498 558
Cw3 Coverage width, km (shooting angle = 35°) 658 700 840 959 1120 1249 1400
Coverage width, km (shooting angle = 45°) 940 1000 1200 1370 1600 1784 2000
Max transversal strip (route) length, km @35° 465 495 594 678 792 883 990
ES Step between tracks (turns) at equator, km 2616 2633 2702 2740 2807 2861 2925
nV1 No of Satellites for daily revisit (@35°), >= 3.97 3.76 3.20 2.86 2.51 2.29 2.09
No of Satellites for daily 4-time revisit >=
nV4 (@35°, can daily REIMAGE objects up to 90km 16 15 13 12 10 10 9
No of Satellites for monthly REIMAGE all,
n30R 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
(28km swath width, 10% stripe overlap )
No of Satellites for weekly REIMAGE all, >=
n7R 17 17 17 18 18 19 19
(28km swath width, 10% stripe overlap )
No of Satellites for 2-daily REIMAGE all, >=
n2R 59 59 60 61 63 64 65
(28km swath width, 10% stripe overlap)
SkySat, Most SSTL, LandSat
ISS (430km) Kanopus Spot Meteor-
Satellite examples (using this orbit): Quick-Bird -V
RapidEye, Pleiades,
SW = 25km (example: swath width 28km with 12% overlap) ; ES = (OP /WW3 Spot 6,7
(24*3600sec))*40075km Formosat2
nV1 = ES / Cw3 ; nV4 >= ES*4 / Cw3 ; n30R >= ES / (SW*30) ; n7R >= ES / (SW*7) ; n2R >= ES / (SW*2) ;

Number of salellites here is determined by geometrical conditions, regardless of the target areas or data size. The
limiting factor is the longitudal width of the biggest targets, not the distribution of the targets over Earth surface.
Typical flight scheme (one orbital turn)
When in normal operation, spacecraft must change its orientation
several times per orbital turn according to current mission program.
Flight in the
sun pointing



Since it isn’t known beforehand where and

Shadow when every shooting mode will occur and
how the spacecraft will be oriented relative
Passive to the Sun during shooting (or during
flight communication), flight in the sun pointing
mode must provide sufficient energy for
Flight in the sun pointing
battery charging.
Satellite Earth Observation - workflow
;@Time Command
Local tasking: @010217:1301151 pos 1287120/002…
define the list of targets (what will be pictured at nearest turns). @010217:1301280 pos check
@010217:1301290 exp 113
Programming: @010217:1301293 get 3
@010217:1301350 pos 1287148/031…
form the sequence of commands for satellite orientation, @010217:1301380 rot 06843/00021…
timings for each picture and downlink session @010217:1301396 get 24
@010217:1301403 rot 06579/-0003…
@010217:1301419 rot 06512/00034…
@010217:1301460 pos 1287121/007…
Control: @010217:1301485 pos check
@010217:1301503 get 3
upload the program to satellite. ...

for each target – point the satellite optic to the target and get the picture set.
Onboard processing:
compress and store picture data, prepared for downlink.
point the satellite antenna to receiver, connect and send data and telemetry

trace the satellite by GroundStation antenna; receive, correct receiving errors and assemble data;
Processing 1:
correct picture: sensitivity correction, orthorectification: position, scaling and relief correction, picture assembly
Processing 2:
mosaic forming and output data production.
Satellite Earth Observation workflow: tasking & control
Local tasking:
define the list of targets (what will be pictured at nearest turns)
How fast the satellite can rotate? (reaction wheels or gyrodines )
How fast and precise is orientation determination? (Star trackers)
Selection of targets suitable for shooting at one path needed
(existing digital maps and precise dynamic model of satellite)
;@Time Command
@010217:1301151 pos 1287120/002…
@010217:1301280 pos check
@010217:1301290 exp 113
Programming: @010217:1301293 get 3
form the sequence of commands for satellite @010217:1301350 pos 1287148/031…
@010217:1301380 rot 06843/00021…
orientation, timings for each picture and @010217:1301396 get 24
downlink session @010217:1301403 rot 06579/-0003…
Satellite is relatively “dumb”: @010217:1301419 rot 06512/00034…
@010217:1301460 pos 1287121/007…
commands only define the required @010217:1301485 pos check
orientation and angular speed and @010217:1301503 get 3
actions at predefined time. ...

Of course, special automation software

is used for user-suitable interface to this
tasking and programming.

Control: upload the program to satellite.

Command and control ground station
(separated the command center) can be
installed at several places around the world;
Usually, the program uploaded 1-2 times per day.
Some cases, GlobalStar or other Sat-to-Sat links can be used at any time.
EO Satellite – structure and workflow: Picturing

Picturing: for each target, point the satellite optic to the target and get the set of pictures.
At programmed time, onboard computer determine the difference
between current and required orientation and angular speeds, and
control the reaction wheels to achieve requirements (using system
of software-realized PID regulators).
At programmed time, camera start to produce pictures (with
preprogrammed exposure, gain and frame speed).
Onboard processing: compress and store picture data, prepared for downlink.
Digitized picture data from sensor is reformatted and lossless-compressed
by camera controller (accompanied with orientation and position telemetry),
prepared for future transmission to ground station, and save to data storage.

Telescope Data Payload

Sensor Camera
optic Controller storage
modem Motion transmitter

Array Computer Telemetry TX
ACS Computer Thruster
Command RX
Power Propulsion
Module Control Module
Reaction Wheels
X Magnetorquer Fuel Tank
Y Magnetorquer Pressure
power to 2Star
x Star Tank tracker:
all payloads tracker Valves
tracker Z Magnetorquer

receiver 3-Axis
EO Satellite – structure and workflow: Picturing

Solar Earth observation payload

panel Telescope Sensor Camera Data
optic Controller storage
storage Hi-speed
Power transmitter
Narrow directed
Satellite command and control antenna
Regulated power Telemetry & Propulsion subsystem
to subsystems computer command
Omnidirectional Propulsion
Power transceiver Truster
antenna control
Attitude control Valve

3 or 4 reaction wheels Valve

2 x Star Propellant
tracker Sun
sensors 3 axis magnetorquer
3-axis magnetometer tank
Mechanical structure + thermal insulation and thermal dissipation
Satellite Earth Observation workflow: downlink data

Downlink: point the satellite antenna to receiver, connect and send data and telemetry
At the programmed time, the satellite (or antenna only) orientation
will be set to point to the ground station (GS). The angular speed

set to be controlled the way that antenna stay to be pointed to GS DVB-S2


during the flight (for all downlink session duration). Horn Antenna and Polarizer

160Mbit/s Ka-band transmitter


At the programmed time, GS antenna start to point and follow predicted

satellite trajectory inside GS field of view. When “preamble” signal
from satellite is received, GS begin correction of the antenna orientation
and receiving frequency (shifted by Doppler effect) relying on this signal.
At the programmed time, camera controller start to read the picture data
from data storage and sent it to hi-speed transmitter. The list of data
packages for transmission need to be conditionally pre-programmed.
Receiving: trace the satellite by GroundStation antenna; receive, correct errors, assemble data;
GS receive the data packets transmitted from satellite, correct the errors
using LDPC/FEC (Low Density Parity Check / Forward Error Correction codes), 400Mbit/s X-band transmitter
assemble the packets to the meaningful data format, and store data for future processing.

Downlink session duration depends on satellite altitude, and

on current satellite orbital turn position relative to GS.
For LEO (400…1000km) session duration is less than 750 sec
(for 600km orbit – less than 510s, usually about 350…400s ).

Number of turns with possible downlink session depends

on the latitude of GS (and on orbital height).
Svalbard Satellite station at 78°13′47.18″N can receive data
10…13 times per day (10-13 turns from 15 for 600km orbit).
Most Europian stations (at 70°N…36°N) can receive data
only from 1 to 4 times per day.

2m Ground Station Antenna

Satellite EO performance – image data size
Assume 25km swath width and 3 frame/s,10000x7096 pixels/frame (determined by sensor) for 800…600km orbit
Panchrome 2.5m GSD + 6 band with full resolution 2.5m GSD (12bit samples) 84bit/pix  1.68Mbyte/km2
Panchrome 2.5m GSD + 6 band with half resolution 5m GSD (12bit samples)  30bit/pix  0.60Mbyte/km2
Assume 15km swath width and 3 frame/s, 10000x7096 pixels/frame (determined by sensor) for 470km orbit.
Panchrome 1.5m GSD + 3 band with half resolution 3m GSD (12bit samples) -> 21bit/pix  1.21Mbyte/km2
Assume additional data from exposition and telemetry ~5Kbyte/km2.
Using wavelet lossless compression and LDPC/FEC encoding, total compression ratio estimated 0.5 … 0.47
Some examples shown in the table:

Orbit height, km 800 km 600 km 470km

Speed of nadir point, m/s 6621m/s 6908m/s 7106m/s
Panchrome Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) 2.5m 2.5m 1.5m
Turn period (and light part duration), sec 6052s (2741s) 5801s (2601s) 5640s (2554s)
Frame overlapping 12.8% 9.0% 9.0%
Shooting Performance 166 173 106
Uncompressed total data rate from sensor 319.3Mbyte/s 319.3Mbyte/s 319.3Mbyte/s
Pixels per square km 160000 pixel/ 160000 pixel/ 462400 pixel/
No of Color bands & GSD (full-resolution) 6 bands, 2.5m 6 bands, 2.5m 3 bands, 1.5m
Data size (12bit samples, compressed + LDPC 84bit/pix  84bit/pix  48bit/pix 
ECC-encoded, total compression 1:2) ~0.97Mbyte/ ~0.93Mbyte/ ~1.53Mbyte/
No of Color bands & GSD (half-resolution) 6 bands, 5m 6 bands, 5m 3 bands, 3m
Data size (12bit samples, compressed + LDPC 30bit/pix  30bit/pix  21bit/pix 
ECC-encoded, total compression 1:2) ~0.34Mbyte/ ~0.33Mbyte/ ~0.66Mbyte/
Satellite EO performance – data size and speed
Assuming one or two downlink transmitters at 320 mbit/s, size of daily imaged area limitation was
calculated, so all imaged data can be transmitted. The total session duration per day was determined
for station positions (shown later) using STK modelling (for 10° minimal elevation of GS antenna ).
The satellite performance (in square kilometers), potentially achievable with this transmission speed,
is shown at this sample tables for different orbits, resolutions, and number of ground stations.
800 km orbit, GSD 2.5m @nadir One session, Per day, 3 Per day, 10
max ground station ground station
Downlink session duration, sec 627 6563 10740
Data transmitted, Gbyte (one/two transm.320Mbps) <25 / <50 262 / 525 429 / 859
Thousands of square kilometers, full res color (0.97Mb/km2) 25.8/51.5 270 /541 442 / 885
Thousands of square kilometers, half res color (0.34Mb/km2) 73.5/147 770 / 1544 1261 / 2526
600 km orbit, GSD 2.5m @nadir One session Per day, 3 GS Per day, 10 GS
Downlink session duration, sec 510 5280 8975
Data transmitted, Gbyte (one/two transm.320Mbps) <20.4 / <41 211 / 422 359 / 718
Thousands of square kilometers, full res color (0.93Mb/km2) 21.9/44 227 /454 386 / 772
Thousands of square kilometers, half res color (0.33Mb/km2) 61.8/124 770 / 1279 1088 / 2176
470 km orbit, GSD 1.5m @nadir One session Per day, 3 GS Per day, 10 GS
Downlink session duration, sec 422 4741 7758
Data transmitted, Gbyte (one/two transm.320Mbps) <16.9/ <33.7 190 / 379 310 / 620
Thousands of square kilometers, full res color (1.53Mb/km2) 11/22 78 / 156 202 / 405
Thousands of square kilometers, half res color (0.66Mb/km2) 25.6/51 219 / 438 470 / 939

Satellite can get much more photo data than it can transmit to us.
Satellite EO performance – Ground stations

If we need that satellite downlink is possible twice every pass (orbital turn),
than system of inexpensive stations (X/KA-band with 2m antenna) with overlapping coverage need to be organized.
All ground stations based in cities with high speed Internet optical backbone. Data storage of each ground station
is a part of cloud data storage of the system.
Common structure for several EO satellite is possible, with satellite data receive services to third parties.
It is very perspective area for cooperation with many involved companies around the World.
Satellite Earth Observation workflow: Processing

Processing 1: correct pictures (at ground processing center).

Sensitivity correction:
correct the non-equal sensitivity, dark signal and noise of different sensor pixels or areas.
Orthorectification: correct the picture geometry
sensor picture is the tilted projection of spherical quadrangle from Earth surface,
additionally distorted by object height and satellite lens imperfection.

This correction based on existing digital maps and

on specialy taken “calibration targets” on Earth.

Precise position of image objects now usually determined using search of the well-recognizable
objects on existing high-resolution digital maps.
This way is not suitable for fast-modifying areas, as coasts and meteorological data.
And own satellite targeting error (about 2 arc.second ≈ 10µrad) result of 6m error from 6km.
Cubesat EO payload design: Cubesat specifics

CubeSat Size in mm Optical Payload size limits Aperture limit, Ø/ □

1U 113x113x100 Ø<92mm, size < 89x89x89mm (ALL systems) 80mm (really<50mm)
3U 113x113x366 Ø<92mm, size < 89x89x280mm (EO payload) 80mm / 90mm
6U 113x246x366 1-2 payload unit inside 89x89x300mm each or 80mm / 90mm
3-4 payload unit inside 85x85x190mm each 75mm / 85mm
16U 246x246x450 Ø<233mm, size < 233x233x340mm 225mm / 241mm
Dauria /

1.5U MISC,
Pumpkin Inc.

3U Dove-1, 6U Platform
Planet Labs Dauria /
CubeSat dimensions bring a lot of specific problems:
1.Strong aperture limitations (diameter < 90mm for < 8U Satellites, <240mm for bigger ones)
2.Payload is the biggest part of satellite (50-75% volume), strictly limited by size and weight.
3.Extremely wide temperature range (-70 … +60)
4.Extremely limited electrical power
Additional problems: low budget, limited man-power and equipment.
Cubesat EO payload design: limitations
1. Diffraction limit of optic.
(real GSD >5m for <8U satellites, GSD >2.5m for ~16U satellites)
2. Light sensitivity problems (due to small aperture) and low SNR.
Color SNR problems (only small part of light spectrum used by sensor)
PAN-sharpening and digital picture restoration can be used at post-processing.
3.Fast orbital motion: motion compensation or ultra-short expositions needed.
4.Ultra-precision mechanics (low tolerances): ~= 2…3 sensor pixel size (~10um)
Thermal deformations (avoid by usage low TEC materials: Invar, Carbon-Fiber,
Deformations during orbiting; Fused Silica)
Internal vibration sources (reaction wheels or antenna gimbals)
5.Cost: ultimately different from mass-production. COTS problems.
Biggest part is high-qualified labor cost, not distributed per quantity.
Cost of precision mechanics.
Cost of tests. Risk management. (Un)knowledge management.
6.Space factors: vacuum, thermal, radiation
Plastics and coatings (and even glass) degradation;
Contamination: vapors, electrostatic charge + dusts
Heat dissipation and strong heat gradients
RAD tolerance (total), SEU restoration, sensor degradation
Orientation: Sun protection – covers, baffles, coatings.
Post-processing: GSD and PSF
Cubesat EO payload design: optical schema
View angle: FOV ~= Swath width / Orbit height
Wide-angle mirror telescopes is the challenge (~1degree border)
Big TDI sensor size in comparison of aperture (>60mm)

1.Lens-based telescopes
heavy, but can be used for low resolution (EFL<150mm)
Some times COTS optic can be used,
but it’s resolution is usually pure –
must be carefully selected and reworked.

2.Three-mirror anastigmat (Korsch, TMA):

the best, but too big and complex
for Cubesat (may be, in future?)

3.Catadioptric on-axis telescope design

Hougthon/Volosov, Maksutov-Cassegrain
(Full-aperture corrector + several lens field corrector)
Cubesat EO payload design: 90mm optical schema
Main design ideas (6U camera)
COTS optic based with a lot of rework. 61mm aperture

71MPix sensor,
3.1um pixels.
Main design ideas (16U)

Satellite is designed “around” the payload.

Design of all components is well coordinated and closely matched.
Total satellite volume is 27.2L, with payload volume is ~20L : >73% !!!
Wide usage of industrial and ready “non-Space-specific” components,
(but Space-qualified components everywhere it needs).
Camera optical design (16U)

1 lens Primary Mirror
2 lens

4 lens
Secondary 3 lens
mirror Filter &

The invented schema is a compact catadioptric on-axis telescope, consisting of:

the 1st front lens (full-aperture corrector); the Mangin-type concave primary mirror; the convex secondary mirror
(placed in the central hole of the front lens); and the two-lens corrector (placed in the center of the primary mirror),
forming a high quality image on a flat sensor. All optical surfaces are spherical. Material is Fused Silica.
To reduce the size and the mass of the telescope, convex secondary mirror is placed inside the central hole of the
front lens and mounted directly into the front lens without additional supports or spiders.
Schema was optimized so that the image plane is formed near the surface of the mounting system of the PM.
To increase the aperture of the telescope (equivalent of the aperture diameter of the system) over its size constraints,
the 1st lens and the PM diameter is greater than the transverse dimensions of the system, and be cut off at the edges
to the required size. Equivalent aperture is 241mm (in 230x230mm size). Optics is optimized for this aperture shape.
Two buffles defeat sensor from stray light. Specially designed square-conical shape of the buffles (optimized for sensor
shape) used to minimize the obscuration.
As a result, good camera MTF is achieved: >26% at Nyquist (161 lp/mm), encounting buffles obscuration.
Telescope Mechanical structure (16U) - sample

Satellite side panel: Al, 2mm + Solar batteries: InGaAs

Sliding Fixed Multilayer Thermo Insulation
mountings: Delrin Sidebar: Invar 32-5, 2mm mountings: Al

Main Structure:
1st lens: SiO2 2nd lens SiO2 ; The main interface is the fixed
Reflective coating at back Sensor
(Mangin Primary mirror) plate mountings on the sides of main
structure, screwed to satellite side
SM mount: Invar 32-5 PM baffle: Al
panels. Additional variant is mounting
at the edges of main structure to the
satellite main plate.
Mirror: SiO2 Lens 3 4:SiO2 PM is mounted by central tube,
Mount Tube: Invar 32-5
permanently glued into PM hole.
The tube sleeve is screwed to tube
255.941 mm±5mkm The structure sleeve is screwed to
main structure.

SM baffle: Al After PM adjustment sleeves will be
fixed to each other by glue using
special holes.
Outer Shield: Al, 0.3mm, blackened inside Ø258mm

Sidebar: Invar 32-5, 2mm 222mm

330mm to sensor Si (327.36mm to sensor window)
Primary mirror – Mangin at 2nd lens, Ø 258 mm, squared to 222mm
Secondary mirror Ø 120mm
1 lens Ø 258mm squared to 222mm (241mm equivalent aperture); 3 & 4 lens Ø 60mm
Questions ?