Improving CubeSat reliability: Subsystem redundancy or improved testing?

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The objective of this paper is to investigate which approach would lead to more reliable CubeSats: full subsystem redundancy or improved testing. Based on data from surveys, the reliability of satellites and subsystems is estimated using a Kaplan–Meier estimator. Subsequently, a variety of reliability models is defined and their maximum likelihood estimates are compared. A product of a Lognormal distribution addressing immaturity failure and a Gompertz distribution addressing wear-out is found to best represent CubeSat reliability. Bayesian inference is used to find realistic wear-out parameters by using failure data of small satellites. Subsystem reliability estimates are subsequently found using a similar approach. A reliability model for CubeSats with redundant subsystems is established, verified and applied in a Monte Carlo simulation. The results are compared with a model for reduced immaturity failure. Allocating resources to reduction of immaturity failures through improved testing is considered to be superior to allocating these resources to the implementation of subsystem redundancy.