NanoRacks-SkyCube (NanoRacks-SkyCube) - 05.17.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
NanoRacks-SkyCube is an educational mission that demonstrates the capabilities of small, low-budget satellites in a manner that engages the public. The small satellite takes images of the Earth from space by request, sends "tweets" in the form of radio pings, and inflates a balloon to de-orbit itself in a demonstration that could be used to reduce future space debris. 
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Tim DeBenedictis, B.S., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks CubeSat Mission-1

Principal Investigator(s)
Tim DeBenedictis, B.S., Southern Stars Group LLC, San Francisco, CA, United States

Scott Cutler, B.S., Southern Stars Group, San Francisco, CA, United States

Southern Stars Group, LLC, San Francisco, CA, United States
NanoRacks, LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2013 - March 2014

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

^ back to top

Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • NanoRacks-SkyCube is the first CubeSat that members of the general public can interact with through a smart-phone interface. 
  • After the NanoRacks-SkyCube mission is complete, an inflatable balloon is deployed increasing drag and hastening de-orbit. If successful, it will be the first CubeSat to de-orbit itself using inflatable technology.


NanoRacks-SkyCube takes numerous low-resolution images of the Earth, and transmits them down for later distribution to mission sponsors.  These are low-resolution images are intended to provide a global, environmental view of the Earth, and provoke the same type of world-unifying reaction as to Apollo 17's famous "Blue Marble" picture.

NanoRacks-SkyCube's “tweets from space” are simply the satellite’s beaconing pings, modulated with sponsor-supplied messages, broadcast at 915 MHz every 10 seconds.  They are intended to be heard by amateur radio operators worldwide.  These messages are screened for consistency with the mission’s educational goals.

At the end of mission, NanoRacks-SkyCube inflates an onboard balloon to a diameter of approximately7 feet (2 meters).  The balloon makes NanoRacks-SkyCube into an optically visible target to naked-eye observers on the ground, further enhancing its public outreach impact.

The balloon also rapidly de-orbits the satellite due to atmospheric drag, causing it to re-enter the atmosphere and disintegrate harmlessly approximately two weeks after balloon inflation.  Thus NanoRacks-SkyCube ends its mission cleanly, without generating space debris.  It is the first CubeSat mission to deliberately de-orbit itself using a balloon.

^ back to top


Space Applications
The NanoRacks-SkyCube investigation, which would not be possible without the infrastructure of the International Space Station, enhances the public's awareness of the space program. Additionally, the satellite is the first to de-orbit itself using an inflatable balloon, which demonstrates a novel solution for the problem of space junk. Future CubeSat missions may use similar methods to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and safely disintegrate.

Earth Applications
The general public requests low-resolution images of Earth from NanoRacks-SkyCube, providing a broad range of educational and research opportunities. The images are intended to evoke the Earth-wide view provided by the Apollo 17 "Blue Marble" image, and to observe weather patterns, auroras, and city lights at night. The satellite's "tweets from space," sponsored radio pings broadcasting every 10 seconds, further engage the public. Additionally, NanoRacks-SkyCube inflates a 7-foot-diameter ballon at the end of its mission, which makes the satellite visible to naked-eye observers on the ground.

^ back to top


Operational Requirements and Protocols

NanoRacks-SkyCube is designed for compatibility with the Mobile CubeSat Command and Control (MC3) network.  MC3 is a new high-bandwidth CubeSat ground station network headquartered at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, CA. Southern Stars is the first private US company to secure an operating relationship with MC3.

When CubeSat operations begin, the NRCDs are unpacked, mounted on the JAXA Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform (MPEP) and placed on the JEM airlock slide table for transfer outside the ISS.
NanoRacks CubeSats are delivered to the ISS already integrated within a NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD). A crewmember transfers each NRCSD from the launch vehicle to the JEM.  Visual inspection for damage to each NRCSD is performed.  When CubeSat deployment operations begin, the NRCSDs are unpacked, mounted on the JAXA Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform (MPEP) and placed on the JEM airlock slide table for transfer outside the ISS. A crewmember operates the JEM Remote Manipulating System (JRMS) – to grapple and position for deployment. CubeSats are deployed when JAXA ground controllers command a specific NRCSD.

^ back to top

Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

^ back to top

Results/More Information

Information Pending

^ back to top

Related Websites
Southern Stars

^ back to top


The NanoRacks-SkyCube hardware in Launch Configuration.  Image courtesy of Southern Stars Group, LLC.

+ View Larger Image

NanoRacks-SkyCube in Deployed Configuration.  Image courtesy of Southern Stars Group, LLC.

+ View Larger Image

Ground track of typical NanoRacks-SkyCube orbit, with possible ground station locations. Image courtesy of Southern Stars Group, LLC. 

+ View Larger Image

Montage of simulated images at the resolution expected from NanoRacks-SkyCube's cameras.  Image courtesy of Southern Stars Group, LLC. 

+ View Larger Image