College of Science, Technology, and Health

USM Cubesat Design Competition - 'UCDC 2021'

 UCDC 2021 Flyer

USM Cubesat Design Competition 2021

Competition Overview

The University of Southern Maine Cubesat Design Competition invites students from Maine high schools and organizations to conceptualize, plan and present original payload designs meeting the USM Cubesat design challenge mission objectives. The design competition is meant to challenge student teams to perform a complex engineering task under constraints to spur creativity and gain experience in the engineering design process. Students will submit a design packet and narrative describing their original work to a panel of experts within the space industry. The competition aims to reach 6-12 grade school students from multiple educational preparedness levels. Groups 6-8 and 8-12 will be judged separately.  "Mixed grade level teams are allowed and will be judged in the 9-12 grade group."

The competition aims to:

  • Engage students in STEM experiential learning and consider future careers within the space industry
  • Increase student confidence in STEM through problem solving within a real space mission experience
  • Allow students to develop and practice soft career skills, such as teamwork, leadership and project management
  • Bolster the cubesat research and development work being undertaken within the Maine space industry.


Project Specifications

The challenge is to design a payload system for a 1U cubesat that can perform a science or technology based mission of your choosing. The designs must be capable of meeting the basic mission requirements.

  • Must meet the 1U cubesat design volume form factor of 10cmX10cmX10cm (61 in3)
  • Must weigh less than 1 kg (2.2 lbs)
  • Must include its own on-board power
  • Must be capable of operating in conditions up to 90,000 feet (27.7 km)
  • Must be water proof in case of a water landing
  • Must be constructed with a total cost less than $1,000
  • Must have clearly identified and measureable mission objectives to judge success.

The competition is separated into two main phases: a) a research & design phase and b) a build & test phase. The research & design phase ends when teams submit their conceptual design proposal for review and scored by a panel of expert judges. Three finalists from each age group will be selected to progress to the build & test phase, where they will receive USM engineering technical support, materials, resources and toolkits to build the payloads and complete a balloon launch demonstrating functionality. The best performing payload will be awarded first place.

 Competition Tasks

  1. Concept and Requirements:Teams will create an initial concept for their cubesat payload according to their mission objectives. This stage is expected to last 4 weeks and concludes with the preliminary design mission proposal. Teams will submit their design proposal documentation to USM for feedback provided by the review panel. The format of presentation of this work is left up to the individual team members.
  2. Detailed Design:Teams will modify/improve their preliminary designs from the previous stage, taking into account any new design decisions and reviewer feedback. The final detailed proposal will include payload conceptual design, description of operation, compliance with mission specifications and justification for award. Final proposals are submitted to the USM review panel for judging. An additional 4 weeks will be provided for this effort. This detailed proposal will follow these guidelines,
    • A mission title
    • Team members and responsibilities
    • 200 word executive summary
    • 2000 word full proposal that explains,
    1. Mission Problem Statement
    2. Mission Objectives
    3. Team Roles and Responsibilities
    4. Conceptual Design
    5. Operational Details
    • On-board power details
    • Data recording
    • Mission execution procedure
        1. Budget including a bill of materials (BoM)
        2. Compliance
        3. Scientific Merit
        1. Build and Test: Teams will carry out the construction and test of the satellite payload as specified in the final proposal. Teams should execute the test plan defined in the final proposal and provide a test report to competition planners prior to the balloon launch.


        The submissions will be judged first on the quality, depth and rigor of the work presented and secondly by the breadth of the work in terms of topics covered. The program panel will consist of volunteer industry and academic experts.

        Judging will commence in two rounds, the first round is the paper conceptual design triage round in which final design submissions will each get a 20-30 minute review from at least 3 judges in a closed envelop format.  Judges will combine their merit (0-5) and quality (0-5) scores into an overall score (0-10).  The closed envelop judge scores will be compiled and their scores tabulated.  The Top 8-10 scoring submissions from the grade 6-8 and grade 9-12 groups will then move to the “semi-finalist” judge committee. The remaining applicants will be given a “successful mission” award if the applicant presented a plausible design concept, but whose work did not raise to the semi-finalist grouping. 

        In the “semi-finalist” round, all judges will be asked to provide a new 15-20 minute review of the remaining submissions.  The judges will then go to open committee to discuss the applications.  Through this process the top 3 teams will be awarded “Finalist” submissions for each age group and the remaining applicants will be given “semi-finalist” awards. 

        “Finalists” will be given a certificate and invited to participate in a build-off competition.  At the conclusion of the build-off round, the judges will review the assembled cubesat designs and score the applicants on build quality, completeness and functionality of the designs.  Judges will award a “best in show” for the best built cubesat.  At the conclusion of the balloon launch, judges will also rank the designs on their ability to meet mission objectives.  The cubesat that best achieved mission objectives will be designated the competition winner and a trophy will be awarded. 

         Registration and Key Dates

        Open competition registration is limited to Maine high schools and organizations and will begin December 2020 and close March 13th 2021. 

        All registrations must be completed through the USM website.  All registrants will be provided a 3D printed cubesat frame via postal service as a thank you.

         The design competition will have a formal “kick-off” in February 13th 2021. Final design report deadline is April 16th 2021. Finalists will be announced on April 23rd 2021.  Build and launch to be completed by 1st week of June. 

        Team Specifications

        Teams will be comprised of at least 2 students and one school sponsor and may not have more than 10 students per team. Each school can have more than one team. USM competition leaders will provide teams with fundamentals of cubesat background informational sessions as well as provide each team a Mentor to help overcome any non-student deliverable issues. All contributing team members should be credited on the team roster, which is submitted with the project.

        List of Resources

        Below are a list of resources and examples of previous mission reports which may be helpful to your planning purposes.

        NASA Cubesat 101

        Dave Akerman Introduction to High Altitude Ballooning

        Spaceflight Mission Planning Guide

        European Space Agency Technology Cubesat

        NASA improving Mission Success Presentation

        Nanostar Project Report


        Registration Link:

        Please email for questions!