TRACE – CubeSat

Lead: Leo Jung

The CubeSat project TRACE (TU Darmstadt ReseArch Cubesat for Education) currently consists of a team of students from different fields of study and universities in the vicinity of Darmstadt. The project is divided into different subsystems, the so-called subsections. Each of the subsections is led by a team leader who coordinates the work and is also the contact person for technical-related questions. The aim of the project is the development of a 2U CubeSat, the training of the members regarding space technologies, and networking with the industry.

Drop by one of our meetings without obligation. Our weekly project meeting are:

  • TRACE Orga on Tue. at 17:00-17:30 in our TRACE-Lab (L101 / K367)
  • Co-Working on Tue. from 17:30 in our TRACE-Lab (L101/K367)
  • Colloquium on Tue. at 18:00-18:30 in the CE-Lab (L101/368)
  • Workday on Sat. at 11:00-17:00 in our TRACE- & CE-Lab (L101/368).

What is a CubeSat?

CubeSats are a concept for nanosatellites initiated by Stanford University and California Polytechnic State University. It defines a uniform framework for the construction and launch of satellites. The smallest satellite described in the CubeSat standard is the so-called 1U (1 Unit) CubeSat, which has external dimensions of 10 cm x 10 cm x 11.35 cm and a maximum weight of 2 kg per unit. Further CubeSats are then multiples of this size (e.g. 1.5U, 2U, 3U, …). The CubeSat project of TUDSaT focuses on the development of a 2U CubeSat.

Mission Objectives

The payload of the CubeSat project can be divided into scientific and educational mission objectives.

Primary Scientific Objectives

Considering the decreasing launch costs due to new rocket technologies and the growing number of large constellations of small satellites, one of the most crucial challenges in astronautics is the sustainable use of the earth’s orbital environment. For this reason, the CubeSat Mission addresses the increasing problem of space debris regarding small satellites and non-cooperative targets.

Nominal operations of satellites depend on the clear identification of the individual satellites. This identification is conventionally achieved by a combination of NORAD-published TLE data and received datasets from the satellite. Because of their simple design, mostly built by amateurs or educational institutes, small satellites suffer from an increased risk of not being fully operational after launch.

Thereby and by difficulties regarding identification through TLE data, caused by many satellites in similar orbits after mass launches, many of these satellites cannot be identified properly. Historical data show that this can take up to 200 days.

Consequently, we as a student group have made it our mission to demonstrate and test independent identification technologies during our CubeSat mission, which are supposed to enable the early localization and identification after deployment and the collection of data about its movement and orbit.

Please check out the Mission page for a deeper understanding of our mission and its motivation.

Secondary Scientific Objectives

When planning a space mission, one must always take into account the radiation dose to which the subsystems are exposed. For this reason, the scientific secondary payload is composed of two components: A gamma sensor and an experiment to measure free charges within the high atmosphere.

The objective of this experiment is first to test the concept and, if successful, to learn conclusions about the state of the high atmosphere.

How We Work

Unlike other space projects, the CubeSat team does not follow the classical approach of project phases as described by ECSS, but an iterative development approach. This decision is based on two advantages:

  • „rapid prototyping“ allows to optimize the design at an early stage
  • the iterative approach allows a flexible handling of changing requirements

The iterative approach is essentially based on the phase model, which means that all phases of the traditional model are run through per iteration. Each iteration lasts 6 months (semester cycle), starts with the conception and definition of milestones, and goes seamlessly into the implementation of a prototype. Towards the end of the cycle, the iteration is completed with the integration of the subsystems and their documentation. After each iteration, the results are evaluated, and based on these results the milestones for the next iteration are defined. Thus, the functional scope is increased with each cycle until the complete product is finally achieved. This iterative cycle is then concluded by a final test campaign to ensure the functionality of the finished CubeSat.

Open Source Philosophy

After a detailed examination of comparable projects and the products available on the market, it became obvious that no standard for components and protocols used in CubeSats had been established so far. For each project, the complete design is started from scratch and little benefit is generated from work already done. Existing Open Source projects are often insufficiently documented, which means that the benefit for the community is missing. Our CubeSat project provides a generic solution to these problems: an open platform that can handle all common requirements and whose development is well documented and made available to the public in a comprehensible way. Unlike other projects, we do not reinvent the wheel but rely on proven CCSDS and ECSS space standards to ensure compatibility with professional equipment. Thus, this platform can be used as a basis for every CubeSat project and can be extended as needed.


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the CubeSat Project Management.