Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Over-the-Air Firmware Update for an Educational CubeSat Project

(*) Corresponding author

Authors' affiliations



The CubeSat standard has been envisioned to teach students about satellites from the initial conceptualization to the in-orbit operation. Educational satellite projects have contributed to the creation of skilled workforce and have also advanced spacecraft technology. Unfortunately, educational satellites are not always successful. Design defects in the hardware can be isolated and addressed by running functional checks before launch. On the other hand, software bugs are difficult to identify and may go unidentified months into in-orbit operation. Due to the limited time available for software testing, students cannot spend sufficient time running the satellite software in an operational scenario. While in-orbit software patching is quite a simple and routine task for traditional commercial and government satellite operators, they are uncommon in the CubeSat domain. In this paper, the question of why satellite firmware updates are not very common for educational satellites is addressed. Technical necessities for an upgradable CubeSat are examined for both microcontroller and system-on-a-chip based CubeSats. After comparing both systems, a hybrid system is proposed as a solution for educational CubeSats. A system capable of upgrading the satellite firmware in a single satellite pass is synthesized. It is found out that a roadblock to over-the-air software updates for CubeSats is created not only by the technical aspect, but also by the students’ habit of skipping some engineering practices in their design process. Although their actions may not be critical to the mission success, they are much more important when a maintainable satellite firmware is desired. This paper explores the challenges in upgrading CubeSat flight software in orbit, some possible ways to implement this functionality, demonstration of a method that will allow in-orbit software updates despite having low resources, and a few recommendations for a maintainable satellite software.
Copyright © 2021 Praise Worthy Prize - All rights reserved.


Over-the-Air; Software; Firmware; CubeSat; Reprogramming

Full Text:



M. Swartwout, CubeSat Mission Success: Are We Getting Better?, CubeSat Developers’ Workshop (2019).

S. A. Jacklin, Small-Satellite Mission Failure Rates, NASA Technical Report Server (2019). [Online. Accessed: 16-Nov-2020].


T. Villela, C. A. Costa, A. M. Brandão, F. T. Bueno, and R. Leonardi, Towards the thousandth CubeSat: A statistical overview, International Journal of Aerospace Engineering (2019).

D. L. Dvorak, NASA study on flight software complexity, AIAA Infotech at Aerospace Conference and Exhibit and AIAA Unmanned...Unlimited Conference (2009).

J. Fernández-Conde, J. Gómez-Saez-de-Tejada, D. Pérez-Lizán, and R. Toledo-Moreo, Development of Embedded Boot Software for a Satellite Instrument Control Unit: Lessons Learned, Int. J. Aerosp. Eng., vol. 2019, (2019).

H. Leppinen et al., Developing a linux-based nanosatellite on-board computer: flight results from the aalto-1 mission, IEEE Aerosp. Electron. Syst. Mag., vol. 34, (2019), 4-14.

S. Bhartiya, Linux in 2020: 27.8 million lines of code in the kernel, 1.3 million in systemd, (2020). [Online. Accessed: 19-Feb-2020]. Available:

L. Torvald, Linux Repository (2020). [Online. Accessed: 23-Sep-2020].

A. Maskey, M. I. Monowar, and M. Cho, The First Thousand Nanosatellites: A Study of Operating Systems Used, 32nd International Symposium on Space Technology and Science & 9th Nano Satellite Symposium (2019).

K. K. Pradhan and M. Cho, Shortening of Delivery Time for University-Class Lean Satellites, J. Small Satell., vol. 9, (2020), 881.

A. Cudmore, NASA/GSFC’s Flight Software Architecture: Core Flight Executive and Core Flight System, NASA Flight Software Workshop (2008).

About the Yocto Project. [Online. Accessed: 10-Aug-2020].

T. Tumenjargal, S. Kim, H. Masui, and M. Cho, Programmable CubeSat Interface Board to Reduce Costs and Delivery Time, 33rd Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites (2019).

S. Xu, X.-W. Wang, and M. Huang, Software-defined next-generation satellite networks: Architecture, challenges, and solutions, IEEE Access, (2018), 4027–4041.

M. Bailly, Let’s not make Newspace a paradise for hackers, SpaceWatch, (2020). [Online. Accessed: 18-Nov-2020]. Available:

J. Gangestad, B. Hardy, and D. Hinkley, Operations, Orbit determination, and formation control of the AeroCube-4 CubeSats, 27th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites (2013)

J. W. Gangestad, D. W. Rowen, and B. S. Hardy, Forest fires, sunglint, and a solar eclipse: Responsive remote sensing with AeroCube-4, International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS) (2014).

S. Fitzsimmons, Reliable software updates for on-orbit cubesat satellites, Masters Dissertation, California Polytechnic State University, 2012.

M. Bertino and B. Cooper, Perseus-M On-Orbit Report and Corvus-BC Satellite Design, (2015). [Online]. Available:

I. Latachi, T. Rachidi, M. Karim, and A. Hanafi, Reusable and reliable flight-control software for a fail-safe and cost-efficient cubesat mission: Design and implementation, Aerospace, vol. 7 (2020), 1–29.

C. Lindsay and E. Sit, Open-Source Flight Computer Platform for CubeSats, 34th Annual Small Satellite Conference (2020).

L. Berthoud, M. Swartwout, L. Blvd, S. Louis, J. Cutler, and D. Klumpar, University CubeSat Project Management for Success, 33rd Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites (2019).

L. Berthoud and M. Schenk, How to set up a CubeSat project - preliminary survey results, 30th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites (2016).

B. Klofas and J. Anderson, A Survey of CubeSat Communication Systems, 5th Annual CubeSat Developers' Workshop (2008).

LaSEINE, Small Sat (500 Kg) Database, Kyushu Institute of Technology, Kitakyushu, Japan (2019).

T. R. Tejumola, G. Maeda, S. Kim, H. Masui, and M. Cho, Overview of Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite Project, 8th Nano-Satellite Symposium (2017).

M. I. Monowar and M. Cho, IAC-17.B4.9-GTS.5.3: BIRDS project: Development and operation summery of a cubesat constellation project, Proceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC (2017).

P. Faure et al., Establishing space activities in non-space fairing nations: An example of university-based strategic planning, Acta Astronautica (2018), 220-224.

T. R. Tejumola, G. Maeda, and M. Cho, Changing the Paradigm of Developing Countries Space Program: Lean Satellite Project as a Pragmatic Option, 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) (2017).

A. Jirawattanaphol, N. Kurahara, and M. Cho, 1G05 Design and Development of Ground Station Network for CubeSats Constellation, Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds, Proceedings of 60th Space Sciences and Technology Conference (2016).

J. Sosnowski and M. Iwiński, Remote software reprogramming in embedded systems, Pomiary Autom. Kontrola, vol. 59 (2013), 769–771.

M. T. L. Dayarathna, Study of Using LoRa Modulation for CubeSat Communication, Masters Dissertation, Applied Science of Integrated System Engineering, Kyushu Institute of Technology, 2019.

J. Kaczmarek and M. Wróbel, Modern approaches to file system integrity checking, Proceedings of the 2008 1st International Conference on Information Technology (2008).

Stesina, F., Corpino, S., In Orbit Operations of an Educational Cubesat: the e-st@r-II Experience, (2020) International Review of Aerospace Engineering (IREASE), 13 (2), pp. 40-50.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Please send any question about this web site to
Copyright © 2005-2024 Praise Worthy Prize