The United States Special Operations Command


CubeSat Challenge

Propose new or innovative CubeSat payload technology/use concepts that can be demonstrated to support USSOCOM missions within 12-24 months

This challenge is closed


This challenge is closed



What’s a Cubesat?

CubeSats are gaining popularity among academia, industry, and government. CubeSats are miniature satellites that are commonly used in low Earth orbit, have been used for educational purposes, and recently for applications such as remote sensing, scientific experimentation, or communications.  As engineers become more familiar with the technology, CubeSats are also being considered for flights outside of Earth orbit — to locations such as the Moon, Mars, or Jupiter.  Read more about Cubesats here.

The CubeSat standard was first proposed in the late 1990s by two professors: Dr. Jordi Puig-Suari of California Polytechnic State University and Dr. Bob Twiggs of Stanford University. They were trying to help students gain engineering experience with satellites, which are traditionally expensive to build, launch, and operate.

The basic CubeSat is a 10-centimeter (~4-inch) cube (called 1U) with a mass around 1.33 kilograms (2.93 pounds), but variations on the theme are possible. 1.5, 2, or 3 1U cubes can stack to create a 1.5U, 2U, or 3U CubeSat.  6 1U cubes can create a 10x20x30 cm (6U) CubeSat for more complicated missions.

These small satellites cost significantly less to build, launch, and operate than traditional satellites.  The lower cost allows for more rapid integration of new technology and experimentation with new concepts. The small size and weight reduce launch cost and allow the CubeSat to share a rocket with a larger satellite.  CubeSats adhere to a set of standards that are based on “Safety of Flight” concepts that will “Do no harm” to primary payloads, which is why they are allowed to fly with the more expensive payloads on a “space available” basis.

To give you an example of the use of such small, yet powerful technologies, the Earth observation company Planet recently launched around 100 3U CubeSats from a single rocket to build a constellation capable of imaging the entire earth every day to support everything from disaster response to climate monitoring.


Why Issue a Challenge?    

Here’s where you come into play.

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is the Unified Combatant Command charged with manning, training, and equipping the various Special Operations Component Commands of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force of the United States Armed Forces.  Core Activities within the scope of Special Operations Forces (SOF) include: Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance, Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defense, Civil Affairs Operations, Counterterrorism, Military Information Support Operations, Counter-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Security Force Assistance, Counterinsurgency, Hostage Rescue and Recovery, and Foreign Humanitarian Assistance.     

USSOCOM is unique in that it has service-like acquisition capabilities.  USSOCOM relies on private industry to develop SOF-peculiar equipment and technology to meet mission requirements while complying with federal acquisition regulations and federal law.

One of the guiding tenets of SOF is that most special operations require non-SOF assistance.  As such, USSOCOM is seeking global ideas on how to advance CubeSat capabilities. Specifically, USSOCOM is conducting this crowdsourcing challenge to solicit concepts that advance the state of current CubeSat technologies and payloads and demonstrate applications that may benefit any of the USSOCOM missions.  Concepts should be viable for a prototype demonstration within 12-24 months. These concepts will advance how CubeSats can be utilized to support Special Operations Forces (SOF) missions. 


What You Can Do Right Now

  • Click "Accept Challenge" above to compete in the challenge.
  • Visit the Guidelines tab to see the rules and judging scorecard.
  • Start working on your entry! Submissions will be accepted until Oct. 18, 2017 at 5 p.m. EDT.
  • Click on the "Share" button or social media icons above to share this challenge with your friends, your colleagues, or anyone you know who has a passion for space, satellites, and technology.
  • Leave a comment in the Forum to join the conversation, ask questions or connect with other innovators.


USSOCOM is pursuing a development effort to determine the operational utility of using CubeSats to directly support SOF in austere and denied areas. The intent is to solicit operationally relevant and technically feasible payload concepts for USSOCOM CubeSats.                                  


Example areas that are relevant to USSOCOM missions are (not an exhaustive list):                   

  • Next-generation CubeSat and/or sensor technologies
  • Advanced communications; including full orbit Command & Control and data exfiltration
  • Electro-Optical (EO)/Infrared (IR) sensing and imaging
  • Multi/Hyper spectral sensor technology
  • Propulsion capabilities to modify or maintain orbits
  • Advanced On-Orbit data processing
  • Multi-function payloads
  • Tagging, Tracking and Locating capabilities

What is needed to make a basic CubeSat? (not an exhaustive list):

  • Solar Cells/Panels
  • A Battery Pack
  • A Power Management System
  • Transceiver (FCC or equivalent license required)
  • Antennas
  • Processor(s) (Microprocessors or FPGAs)
  • Flight Software (Satellite and payload control)
  • Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS, Optional)
  • Propulsion (Optional)
  • Ground Station (Separate)



The CubeSat Challenge will award a grand total of up to $35,000 in cash prizes. Up to 7 - $5,000 prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

4 - 3U Winners

2 - 6U Winners

1 - People’s Choice Award


The $5,000 popular choice award will be awarded based on number of votes received during the voting period.  A competitor is eligible to win both a Judges' Award and the People's Choice Award. 

All votes are subject to review. Any competitor using unfair methods to solicit votes will be automatically disqualified from the challenge.

Entries that are eligible for the voting stage will become viewable to the public. Make sure that if your entry moves on to the voting stage, that you're OK with anyone seeing it! Depending on the number of entries received, either all or a selected shortlist will move on to the voting stage.

Potential future challenges may ask competitors to design, develop, and implement concept submissions entered in this challenge.


How do I win?

To be eligible for an award, the solution must, at minimum meet the following specifications and standards:


Judging Scorecard

The judging panel will rank the eligible Solutions submitted using the following Judging Scorecard:

Advances the State of CubeSat TechnologyDoes the proposed solution advance the state of CubeSat technology?25%
Helps Special Operations Forces (SOF) MissionsDoes the proposed solution advance SOF missions?25%
Novelty and InnovativenessIs the proposed solution unique, stretches the bounds of science and engineering, and inspire a spirit of innovation?25%
FeasibilityIs the proposed solution viable for a prototype demonstration within 12-24 months?25%




The CubeSat Challenge is open to individuals, age 18 or older, private teams, public teams, and collegiate teams. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: 

The following restrictions apply to the Challenge:  (1) Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment are not eligible to participate; (2) Federal employees acting outside the scope of their employment should consult their ethics advisor before participating in the Challenge; (3) All employees of the Government, [contractor(s)], Challenge sponsors, and other individual or entity associated with the development or administration of the Challenge, as well as their family members (i.e., spouse, children, parents, siblings, other dependents) and persons living in the same household whether or not related, are not eligible to participate; (4) Contractors receiving Government funding for the same or similar projects, along with their employees, are not eligible to participate in the Challenge.

Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.

No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of satellites is required. Prize organizers encourage outside individuals and non-expert teams to compete and propose new solutions.

To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement, which will be made available upon registration.


Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the website, on or before 5pm EDT on October 18, 2017. No late submissions will be accepted.


Selection of Winners:

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the Judging Criteria section above. In the case of a tie, the winner(s) will be selected based on the highest votes from the judges.



The determination of the winners will be made by HeroX based on evaluation by relevant  United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) reviewers.  Scores and feedback from USSOCOM will not be shared.    


Intellectual Property:                

Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant USSOCOM an irrevocable, royalty free, perpetual, sublicensable, transferable, and worldwide license to use and permit others to use all or any part of the submission including, without limitation, the right to make, have made, sell, offer for sale, use, rent, lease, import, copy, prepare derivative works, publicly display, publicly perform, and distribute all or any part of such submission, modifications, or combinations thereof and to sublicense (directly or indirectly through multiple tiers) or transfer any and all such rights.


Additional Information:

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification.
  • All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified.
  • All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement.
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law.

Challenge Updates

CubeSat Winners Announcement

Dec. 13, 2017, 9 a.m. PST by Paul Musille

A breakthrough in Cubesat payload technologies and use concepts!

We are proud to announce the winners in the $35,000 CubeSat Challenge


By the submission deadline, there were 35 entries to the challenge. And after careful review by the evaluation panel and a public vote, the award recipients are as follows:


3U Prizes ($5,000 USD each)

Team BioInspired Argentina’s entry - QEBELS Network - QEBELS Network: Quantum Enabled Blockchain Encrypted Laser Satellite Network, Inspired by nature.

Ed Friesema’s entry - TweetSat: Civilian communications in a crisis - To provide USSOCOM commanders a secure method for gathering intelligence on civilian locations and movements during a humanitarian crisis.
j k’s entry - TrakSat: Localization-Capable CubeSats - Location-determining service for SOF-controlled independent hyper-local positioning, navigation, and tracking.

Team LSAT’s entry - LSAT - Low Signal Acquisition and Tracking - LSAT is a phased array antenna for UHF SATCOM, capable of both direction finding and communication with small, low-power ground terminals.


6U Prizes ($5,000 USD each)

Arwin Abaigar’s entry - SOF Warfighter Internet Cubesat with Propulsion - 6U Cubesat with internet connection and propulsion for advanced communications including full orbit C2 and data exfiltration.

Jekan Thangavelautham’s entry - High-Speed Secure Satellite Comms. for Extrication - Shows a 2-m inflatable Ka-band communication antenna (2U payload) within a 6U GEO CubeSat that provides 500 Kb/s data rate for military use.


People's Choice Award ($5,000 USD)

Team BioInspired Argentina’s entry - QEBELS Network - QEBELS Network: Quantum Enabled Blockchain Encrypted Laser Satellite Network, Inspired by nature.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the innovators who entered the challenge. While only the innovators listed above are receiving the prizes, there were so many other insightful solutions, we are confident that many of the innovators in this challenge will do great things in the future in. Thank you all for helping make this challenge a success!

[URGENT] LAST DAY for Voting for Best Cubesat Challenge Entry!

Nov. 16, 2017, 6 a.m. PST by Paul Musille

Last Chance!

TODAY is your last chance to have your vote count! Head over to the voting page now and choose your favorite submissions. Voting officially closes at 11:59 pm EDT

One Week Left in the Public Voting Round

Nov. 9, 2017, 2 p.m. PST by Paul Musille

Hi Cubesat Community, 

Don't forget that  public voting ends Nov. 16, 2017, 11:59 p.m. EST - just a week from today! 

If your submission is on the ballot, be sure to share a link to the voting page with friends, family, your social media accounts, and everyone else you can in order to max out your possible votes!

If you don't have a submission on the ballot, cast your vote soon if you haven't already!

Good luck to everyone, and may the best submission win! 

Entries Now Open for Public Voting

Nov. 2, 2017, 6 a.m. PDT by Maureen Murtha

Hello All, 

Just a quick note to let you know that today, as of 9:00 am EDT, the People's Choice Voting Round is officially open. If your submission is on the ballot, be sure to share a link to the voting page with friends, family, your social media accounts, and everyone else you can in order to max out your possible votes! Voting ends Nov. 16, 2017, 11:59 p.m. EST. 

If you don't have a submission to be voted on, now is your chance to get involved and let us know your choice for winner of the Cubesat Challenge!

Good luck to everyone, and may the best submission win! 



Last call! Just 8 more hours!

Oct. 18, 2017, 5:44 a.m. PDT by Paul Musille

Get those submissions in! If there's something holding you back, please let us know. All you have to do is leave a comment right below this update, and someone can (and will, quickly!) help you out. 

Best of luck everyone, remember - your deadline is Today, October 18, 2017 at 5:00 pm EDT!

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