Passive CubeSats for Remote Inspection of Space Vehicles


inspection, photonic integrated circuits, cameras, space operations, antennas, field programmable gate arrays, imaging systems


Remote inspection can supplement instrumentation to holistically characterize vehicle state, but for space vehicles in flight, inspection is often either risky or costly. We propose using passive inspection CubeSats (PICs) to reliably and affordably image the launch vehicle with fine resolution, moderate coverage, and rapid response. The PICs mission, developed by Brigham Young University undergraduate students and manifested for launch in 2019, is designed to demonstrate this approach using two redundant CubeSats. Each CubeSat uses a spherical array of six cameras, 12 light-emitting diode flash units, and a field-programmable gate array to rapidly boot after separation and capture spherical images of its entire surroundings, including the launch vehicle and other released CubeSats. The PIC bus system includes several custom components, including a compact 3500-mAh battery system, 1 to 2 W solar power system, chassis, omnidirectional antenna system, radio, and a small integrated remove-before-flight-pin and system access port. Preliminary test results suggest the PICs are able to boot within 1.1 s of separation and inspect 1-mm features on each other and their launch vehicle, regardless of the spin developed at separation.

Original Publication Citation

Walton, P., Cannon, J., Damitz, B., Downs, T., Glick, D., Holtom, J., Kohls, N., Laraway, A., Matheson, I., Redding, J., Robinson, C., Ryan, J., Stoddard, N., Willis, J., Warnick, K., Wirthlin, M., Wilde, D., Iverson, B., and Long, D., 2019, "Passive CubeSats for remote inspection of space vehicles," Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, Vol. 13, pp. 032505. DOI: 10.1117/1.JRS.13.032505

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


SPIE Digital Library




Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology


Mechanical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor