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WISA Woodsat boom inside
In this blog we follow the building of the WISA Woodsat satellite and unveil the secrets of space, plywood and everything. In this post we go back to basics: what is a CubeSat?

WISA Woodsat is a CubeSat, standardized nanosatellite that meets the specifications first developed in 1999 at California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University to facilitate the easy development and launch of the student satellites.

The first CubeSats were launched in June 2003. Danish AAUSAT-1 (pictured below) from Aarhus University was one of those.


Although the origins of the CubeSats are in academia and student projects, many commercial companies are using this format nowadays. From 2013 most of the CubeSats have been other than student satellites.

Arctic Astronautics is one of those companies benefiting from the CubeSat ecosystem that makes designing, building, and launching satellites easy and straightforward.

The satellites can be put in any dispenser made according to standard, and dispensers can be installed in almost any kind of launcher. This also minimises risk to the rest of the launch vehicle and other payloads. Unification enables quick exchanges of payloads and utilisation of launch opportunities on short notice.

Without using the CubeSat specification, the building and launching of the WISA Woodsat would have taken much longer and the price tag would have been heftier.

The name “CubeSat” comes naturally from a cube: the satellites are made up of multiple cubic modules of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm in size. Just one cube – or unit – is more than enough for a basic satellite, but for more ambitious missions more volume – more cubes or units – is needed.

The largest CubeSats are nowadays 12 units, measuring 20 cm × 20 cm × 34 cm. On the other hand, the development of electronics has resulted in smaller satellites. The smallest CubeSats are 0,25 units, meaning their height is just 2.5 cm.

Typically 1U CubeSat weighs about 1 kg and WISA Woodsat will be about 1.1 kg.

Most of the CubeSats use commercially available off-the-shelf electronics components, and this fact was also a driving factor when Kitsat was developed. By carefully selecting the inexpensive versions of the “real” space components the price of the satellite was lowered to 1000 euro category instead of about 10 times more.

Every Kitsat is capable of operating in space, but their lifetime would be very likely short because of multiple reasons. Therefore WISA Woodsat is using an updated version of Kitsat inside. The wooden satellite is powered by a Kitsat on steroids.

WISA Woodsat 4 sides

During the launch, WISA Woodsat is a compact cube. The camera boom is packed in the lower part of the satellite and the antennae are lined with the surface. They will pop open in space after the satellite has been released from the dispenser.

During the launch, the satellite is comfortably inside the dispenser. When the rocket is in orbit, the satellites are released according to a pre-planned timetable: the lid of the dispenser is opened remotely and a spring pushes slowly but firmly the satellite out to space.

WISA Woodsat will use Rocket Lab’s Maxwell CubeSat dispenser that features carbon-composite design and material, making it the lightest dispenser in its class. Maxwell is a reliable, flight-proven dispenser family with a strong heritage across multiple missions and successful deployments.

We are anxiously looking forward to our ride to space inside a Maxwell on the top of the Electron rocket later this year!

This video made during the Suomi 100 satellite launch campaign explains (first in Finnish and in English from 1:04 minutes) more about the CubeSat format and also visits the CalPoly satellite laboratory – the birthplace of the CubeSat system. Featuring CubeSat guru Ryan Nugent himself!