The Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory

Home of the CubeSat Developers Workshop


Virtual Exhibit Booth:

April 27–29, 2021 @ 8AM-9:30AM PT | @ 2PM-4PM PT

The Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory 2018–2019


For more details please click here



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.


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.


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



FAUXSAT stands for the First At-Altitude Use of XCube and Sync Acquisition of Telemetry. This project is being developed as a proof of concept payload for the XCube platform with the goal being to fly FAUXSAT onboard XCube’s first flight with NASA’s ER-2 aircraft to demonstrate XCube’s functionalities.

Aerodynamic Deorbit Experiment

ADE (CP-14), Aerodynamic Deorbit Experiment, is a 1U CubeSat with a deployable drag sail payload that will be deployed into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The primary mission objective for ADE 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.


PowerSat is a mission in partnership with Deployables Cubed GmbH, Germany. PowerSat aims at demonstrating the deployment of a large solar array capable of producing up to 100 W. The power generated will be handled by a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) based electrical power subsystem being developed in-house by the Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory (CPCL). Following launch, the solar array stowed in a 1U volume will unfurl like origami to a 4 m² area and pictures will be taken from space to validate the solar array deployment. The PowerSat CubeSat has been selected for participation in NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI).



In 2020, the CubeSat Laboratory initiated the development of a deep space communication system for small spacecraft using X-band. The project overall goal is to establish the design of a low power consuming and low cost deep space communication system that will enable small spacecraft to expand their on-orbit capabilities and enable a larger number of players access to spacebased deep space research.


GOOSE is a nano reaction control system for small satellites that will use resistojets to flash water propellant to steam. As CubeSats go further than low Earth orbit, reaction control systems are necessary to control the attitude of the spacecraft and perform orbital maneuvers. The CubeSat Laboratory is tasked with the development of the avionics that will control the valves and heaters of the system, accepting commands, and relaying telemetry and sensor readings back to the spacecraft’s onboard computer.


PESPI is a two-year project in collaboration with UCI, UCLA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The final product of the mission is to have a design for an electrospray thruster module. The Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory (CPCL) has two main tasks. The first task consists in the design of a CubeSat-class electrical power subsystem (EPS) for operation of the thrusters. There are 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.


Spinnaker 3

The Spinnaker3 payload will deploy an 18 m² dragsail to provide deorbit capability for the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle upper stage. The payload is composed of an 8U dragsail device with a 1U avionics box and a 12U stilt system. The dragsail device consists of four 3 m carbon fiber booms wrapped around a single hub and four transparent sail quadrants. Tracking and mission operations will be conducted at Purdue University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.


CubeSat Kit

The CubeSat Kit project aims to develop an educational platform with modular subsystem components so individuals can learn more about CubeSat operations and systems. The Kit serves to enable external training capabilities and can contribute to capacity building efforts domestically and internationally.

Interplanetary Spacecraft Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer

The Interplanetary Spacecraft Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer, or ISP-POD was developed by the Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory (CPCL) to expand the capabilities of CubeSats to travel beyond the orbit of Earth. This deployer functions as a carrier, supporting CubeSats on their interplanetary journeys and deploying them into space when the time comes.


Stickcube is an internal project intended to be both: a learning project to get members of the Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory (CPCL) more familiar and comfortable designing control systems and filters for future missions involving Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem (ADCS); and a testing bed for ADCS algorithms and hardware. Stickcube’s intended design is an inverted pendulum with a microcontroller (Arduino UNO), Initial Measurement Unit (IMU), and reaction wheels atop a threaded metal shaft.


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.



XCube is a collaboration project between NASA’s Ames Research Center, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, and the University Space Research Association. NASA’s high-altitude ER-2 has unused space in its payload bay. XCube offers a standardized mounting solution, communication protocol set, and a wide variety of power options, allowing organizations to develop smaller payloads according to the CubeSat standard and piggyback on ER-2 flights, maximizing the payload bay usage.

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