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CubeSats: Big Science in Small Packages

In this module, students explore very small satellites called CubeSats that are sent into space. These satellites are 10-centimeter cubes that carry a variety of payloads. The module embeds lessons on the common uses of satellites, satellite functions and orbits, force and motion in space, and volume.

After being provided with criteria and constraints, student teams engage in an authentic design process to create CubeSat models that are then tested for various capabilities through an iterative cycle of testing and optimization. This engineering project provides students a deep dive into the application of science, math, and engineering concepts, as they work to meet all mission requirements. The unit ends with students writing and presenting a mock proposal to NASA to build a CubeSat with a specific payload

NGSS addressed by this module:
3-5-ETS1-1   3-5-ETS1-2   3-5-ETS1-3   5-PS2-1

Grade Band: 5-6

Watch the Video

Engineering Design in the Classroom: CubeSats – Big Science in Small Packages

Download the Lessons

Entire Unit: CubeSats
DAYS 1–10: CubeSats Teacher Handbook Download

DAY 1: Day 1: What are CubeSats?
Students learn about CubeSats and their uses. Download

DAYS 2 & 3: How CubeSats Stay in Orbit
Students explore satellites and their orbits. Download

DAYS 4 & 5: How to build our CubeSat
Students work in pairs to build a model CubeSat out of cardboard, tin foil, tape, wooden sticks, and straws that meet given constraints and testing procedures. Download

DAY 6: Solar Power (Optional)
Students focus on solar power and generating as much solar energy as possible for their cube. Download

DAYS 7 & 8: Optimize Models with Technology
Students receive a CubeSat mission and use spreadsheets to specify their CubeSat's payload. They then complete a diagram or blueprint of their model CubeSat. Download

DAYS 9 & 10: Proposal
Students develop, refine, and deliver a mock proposal to NASA for their CubeSat model. Download

Download Additional Resources

CubeSat Design Payload
DAYS 7 & 8 Download


The materials created by this collaboration were taught by the authoring teachers in Puget Sound and Houston and in 2015, a second group of teachers taught the lessons and provided feedback to improve the modules. As part of a second iteration of the modules, the senior science editor at Teaching Channel worked with Achieve to integrate the teachers’ feedback while more closely aligning the modules to The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for significant shifts in the way science is taught and learned. In 2016, a panel of science experts from around the country convened for a two day training with Achieve to learn how to incorporate the Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuiP) Rubric for Science. As part of the iterative process of improvement, the expert reviewers then completed an EQuIP Rubric for each module. Teaching Channel's senior science editor combined the reviewers input to create a third iteration of the modules that promotes a close alignment to standards while honoring the original expertise of the authoring teachers and engineers.

Centennial Education Partner Resources

I think testing is a vital part of the engineering process; and to do it this early was a really fantastic way for them to really know that they are in the middle of an engineering unit [since] this is just their first iteration... [Students] were just really, highly engaged in that testing process."

Marcia Ventura
5th Grade Teacher, Seattle, WA

Partners at the Institute for Science and Math Education at the University of Washington and Educate Texas were instrumental in teacher recruitment and the necessary training for this initiative.