CubeSail is an exciting, ground-breaking educational satellite project we have. A key feature is the deployment of a 25 square metre sail structure, which will be used to demonstrate the propulsive effect of solar radiation pressure (i.e. solar sailing) and will demonstrate the de-orbiting capabilities of the sail as a drag augmentation device.


CubeSail will be the first launched three-axis stabilised solar sail, and makes use of a novel centre of mass/centre of pressure offset technique to provide enhanced attitude control.

CubeSail will build on our small satellite experience, such as the STRaND-1 nanosatellite, launched on 25 February 2013. Furthermore, the mission critical sail deployment mechanism has undergone an extensive testing and validation process as part of the ESA Gossamer Deorbiter project carried out here.

Several PhD projects are centred on Cubesail's development, and it will serve as a technology platform for at least two further educational satellites developed here. The CubeSail mission objectives are ambitious, and will raise the technology readiness level (TRL) of several technologies to flight demonstration level.

CubeSail satellite

In its launch configuration, the CubeSail satellite conforms to the 3U CubeSat specifications, and the satellite structure has been designed to maximize the additional space provided by the ISIPOD CubeSat deployer. In particular, the available cylindrical space at the rear of the ISIPOD is fully utilised to house a momentum wheel, a sun sensor and deployable boom supporting the magnetometer. The satellite bus occupies approximately 1U, and the remaining 2U house the two-axis translation stage and sail-deployment subsystem.

In the deployed configuration a number of devices will be deployed:

  1. First, the antennas of the UHF/VHF transceiver are released to enable communication with the CubeSail satellite. These tape-spring antennas are positioned at the base of the bus.
  2. Next, a 400mm long bi-stable carbon composite boom is deployed from the cylindrical hub at the base of the satellite, which supports a magnetometer required for attitude control during the de-tumbling operation phase.
  3. After the satellite rotation has stabilised, triggering a burn wire releases four 3U sized solar panels, which are hinged at the base of the satellite bus. The panels rotate by 90 degrees to lie in a plane perpendicular to the satellite (and parallel to the deployed sail).
  4. Lastly, a pin-puller releases the sail deployment mechanism, and four 3.6m long metallic tape spring booms will be deployed using a motor drive, pulling along the four quadrants of the 5x5m aluminised Kapton solar sail. The sail deployment subsystem is a crucial and mechanically complex subsystem of CubeSail.

An extensive testing and validation campaign as part of ESA's ARTES 5.1 programme under the "Deployable Gossamer Sail for Deorbiting" project (ESA contract number 4000103499/11/NL/US) has raised the TRL of the sail deployment subsystem to TRL5, making it ready for a flight demonstration mission.


The primary objectives for the CubeSail mission are twofold. First, to demonstrate the concept of solar sail propulsion in LEO with a 3-axis stabilised 25 square metre solar sail and second, to demonstrate the use of gossamer structures as a drag augmentation device for satellite deorbiting.

The CubeSail mission therefore consists of three stages:


History of CubeSail technology

Read scientific and historical backgrounds to the types of technologies involved in CubeSail.