The past year has witnessed a big development in the realm of small satellites. After years of gestation, CubeSats — those standardized, square-shaped spacecraft platforms measuring 10 centimeters on a side and weighing all of 1 kilogram — are being embraced like never before.

  • The U.S. Army is building its first satellite in 50 years and it’s a CubeSat-based configuration.
  • The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, famous for building billion-dollar behemoths, contracted in February with Boeing Phantom Works for as many as 50 triple-unit CubeSats to serve as inexpensive technology test beds and experiment platforms.
  • NASA is increasingly making room for CubeSats. The agency’s Glory climate-monitoring satellite, for example, will share its Orbital Sciences Corp.-built Taurus XL rocket with three CubeSats built by universities in Colorado, Kentucky and Montana when it launches this fall.

Arguably, none of this would be happening were it not for the efforts of Bob Twiggs, the Stanford University professor emeritus who remains the leading evangelist for the CubeSat standard he and California Polytechnic University professor Jordi Puig-Suari pioneered more than a decade ago.

Twiggs is now sharing his spacecraft expertise with a new generation of scientists and engineers at Morehead State University in Kentucky and at the University of Idaho. CubeSats, meanwhile, are opening up space to ever greater numbers of people.