Ok the title is a bit click bait but in all seriousness I don’t see pocketqubes (PQ) replacing cubesats. I know this sounds a bit crazy from someone who is developing the “Claymore” a 6P pocketqube deployer. But hear me out, this isn’t necessary a bad thing and I believe that this can be a strength for pocketqubes in general.
There are a number of reasons why cubesats will be better suited than a pocketqube but there are several niches that I can see pocketqubes excelling in.
Entry to space
With it being simpler than a cubesat and lower costs for launch, pocketqubes are great for hobbyists, non profit organisations and students at colleges or universities. I know of thin sats becoming a thing and marketed towards students but I don’t know much about them to make an informed opinion on them.
Pocketqubes are great for education in space systems and I think they can help make STEM and space engineering more attractive to pursue for school leavers.
Pocketqubes could be a way for a startup to gain space heritage and credibility quickly which could allow them to work on larger systems.
Help de-risk space
This is where I think pocketqubes and cubesats can provide the biggest contributions to space engineering in general. The space industry is generally slow at developing and can be risk adverse for trying new technologies. This is because launching to space is expensive, difficult and dangerous when human lives are at risk so the benefits of using something new must outweigh these risks.
This is where pocketqubes can be useful. A new mechanism, material, manufacturing method could be trialed on a pocketqube to space qualify them. If the new mechanism fails, material breaks apart or the manufacturing technique can’t achieve the same integrity then thousands instead of millions (or billions in some cases) has been lost. Then again even a failed pocketqube trial is very useful in developing more reliable and safer systems for space flight as organisations will know what to avoid.
If the trial is a success then the new system could be scaled up for a small sat or full scale system. These extra experiments can be used to speed up development and help de risk new systems which will help us achieve more in space in shorter period of time.
Scope for synergy
I always love looking at ways to combine various technologies together to exploit their strengths for a really effective solution. For example conventional machining with additive manufacturing (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/additive-manufacturing-integrate-than-replace-andrew-dunn/)
I would love to see pocketqubes work alongside cubesats and even larger systems like small sats and GEO satellites. I have always thought of a swarm of pocketqubes paired with a cubesat where the pocketqubes are dedicated to a single role and feed data to a “mother” cubesat that filters the junk data and beams the information back down to Earth.
One particular scenario could be a group of PQs each fitted with a sensor to detect specific minerals over a region in the asteroid belt. The cubesat receives the data from the swarm and could map out the minerals detected and where they were found on the asteroid.
PQ’s could also be used as an inexpensive repeater for larger satellites that would allow ground stations to communicate with a satellites when they don’t have a line of sight. For missions beyond Earth a network of PQ could be used to relay signals for a probe or rover which would allow it to be in constant contact with a ground station on Earth.
Won’t they create more space junk?
Space junk is a hot topic and I hope more people take space junk seriously and we find ways to prevent junk causing catastrophic events in the near future. I can see this being a concern with more satellites especially smaller systems like PQ swarms. However this can be mitigated by launching them at a low altitude which would ensure them to have a short lifespan in space before they burn up and not add the problem.
If a team wanted to be able to extend the mission they could add a thruster like the Delfi PQ that I seen at the pocketqube workshop 2018.
These is just some broad thoughts on pocketqubes and I think combining cubesats with pocketqubes could provide interesting results in future space missions. One thing I want to highlight is that we need to find out how cubesats became mainstream and use those lessons that are applicable for pocketqubes.