The Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory

Home of the CubeSat Developers Workshop


The Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory 2018–2019


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The Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory (CPCL) is a multidisciplinary independent research lab. CPCL is the CubeSat development team of Cal Poly, an originator and leader for launches in the CubeSat community. The team consists of staff and students majoring in Mechanical, Electrical, Software, Aerospace, Materials, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering, as well as Physics, Business, Journalism and Graphic Design. CPCL has given Cal Poly students a robust learn-by-doing experience for almost two decades, supporting students to be day-one ready professionals.

Student involvement in CPCL projects is key to all activities. Cal Poly students have developed and launched twelve spacecraft since the start of the program, with multiple more in various stages of development.

CPCL was an early leader in the CubeSat industry and since then has strived to develop a diverse knowledge base in all aspects of the small satellite ecosystem. CPCL has used that know-how to develop future generations of engineers, while developing successful working partnerships with a variety of community contributors. We look forward to continuing this role in the industry and further expanding the boundaries of space education and exploration.

Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory At a Glance: 

  • Laboratory created in 1999
  • CubeSat standard established in 2004
  • $25+ million in sponsored projects
  • 1,000+ students trained from all colleges
  • 12 in-house developed and launched CubeSats
  • 175+ CubeSat missions supported


Cal Poly is developing a program that will provide CubeSat developers with the knowledge and experience gained from the many missions Cal Poly has been a part of. The lessons learned from those missions will be used to develop educational materials that will help developers avoid common pitfalls that have sunk previous missions. The goal is to increase success rates for all CubeSat programs across the board. The Best Practices program will begin by creating a database of gathered knowledge as an easily searchable reference. Cal Poly is also putting together a training program that will teach developers all aspects of CubeSat design, testing, program organization, licensing, and more. Trainings can be geared for experience levels ranging from beginner to novice.


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Vibe Testing

The CubeSat Laboratory operates an electro-dynamic shaker table capable of producing the required G-forces felt during launch. The vibration table is capable of producing a total sine vector force rating of 6000 pounds as it operates between 5 and 3000 Hertz. All P-PODs and CubeSats are thoroughly tested to simulate extreme launch conditions. 


T-VAC Testing

The Cal Poly CubeSat team performs regular thermal vacuum testing on all flight hardware to simulate behavior of materials in different environments. Donated by Northrop Grumman, the vacuum chamber can be held at 10^-5 torr and the test articles are heated and cooled by a copper shroud.


Clean Room

Equipped with 224 sq ft – 100,000 class clean room, the Cal Poly CubeSat team is able to build and integrate CubeSats and P-PODs on campus. Quality Assurance is maintained during all clean room procedures to allow for a consistent and reliable product. All personnel are required to wear protective lab suits and hair nets while working in the clean room. 

Shock Testing

The CubeSat team uses a drop hammer impact table to simulate the extreme launch shock environment, which P-PODs and CubeSats may experience. This shock table allows for precise, calibrated impact testing to ensure the proper simulation of a launch environment.


Helmholtz Cage

Built and assembled last year as a part of a thesis, the Cal Poly CubeSat team now has access to a Helmholtz cage for testing hardware in electromagnetically controlled environment. The cage has a minimum field of 10 nanoTeslas. 

Read more about the Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory testing and facilities here.


NASA TechRise Challenge

The future engineers project is part of the NASA TechRise Challenge where high school students design and launch an experiment on a weather balloon. The Cal Poly CubeSat Lab is working on the supporting electronics that will be launched alongside the experiments and must balance ease of use with functionality to ensure the competition goes smoothly. The project provides an excellent opportunity for students to give back to the engineering community and support the next generation of engineers. 


Spinnaker1 (CP-14) is being developed by Cal Poly CubeSat Lab and Purdue University. It is a 1U CubeSat with a deployable drag sail payload that will be deployed into a low earth orbit (LEO). The primary mission objective for Spinnaker1 is to provide flight qualification for the dragsail and determine its viability. The deployable drag sail is designed to take advantage of the aerodynamic drag forces experienced by the spacecraft near its orbital perigee.


The AMDROHP mission is a technology demonstration for an Additively Manufactured Deployable Radiator with Oscillating Heat Pipes (AMDROHP). This mission is a collaboration with Cal State LA (principal investigator), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory. In addition to performing radiator validating experiments, the AMDROHP mission will serve as the foundation of CubeSat capabilities at Cal State LA and an educational opportunity for several graduate and undergraduate students. The development of this radiator technology will aid addressing the thermal challenges presented by high powered CubeSats on future lunar missions. AMDROHP was recently selected for conditional acceptance to the CubeSat Launch Initiative program in March 2022.


Star Tracker

Star Tracker is a collaborative effort with Lockheed-Martin to develop a low-cost star tracker. Star trackers are highly accurate attitude sensors, and a critical element of missions with strict attitude requirements. Unfortunately, commercially available star trackers can be prohibitively expensive for small-scale missions. Our project is attempting to develop a high-accuracy star tracker that doesn’t break the budget of our missions. So far, we’ve developed in-house software, designed a baffle, and conducted night sky tests with multiple different cameras and lenses.


PESPI (Poly ElectroSpray Propulsion STMD Integration) is a two-year collaboration project with UC Irvine, UCLA, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that will produce a design for an electrospray thruster module. This module will enable technology for a range of SmallSat-based lunar missions and offer significant advancements over existing technologies. Currently, the Cal Poly CubeSat Lab (CPCL) has two main tasks: to develop a CubeSat-class electrical power subsystem (EPS) for operation of the thrusters and to design a spacecraft using the CubeSat platform for a reference mission. The design will include different types of thrusters, and the EPS must be able to switch between two power thrusters that have different operating characteristics. The EPS must also be able to individually control the different thrusters as well as control a solenoid valve that controls the flow of the propellant.

Groundstation Network

The team commands and downlinks data autonomously through a Cal Poly developed ground station network which is capable of autonomous operation of several ground stations in multiple geographic locations. PolySat currently has three operational ground stations on campus at Cal Poly; Hertz is composed of a UHF Yagi antenna and VHF Vagi antenna; Marconi is a dual-phased UHF Yagi array; and Friis is a quad-phased UHF Yagi array.

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