ISO/TS 20991:2018 Space systems – Requirements for small spacecraft

Posted on: May 3rd, 2019  /  By:  /  Posted in: #QUALiTYViVA, ISO, ISO/IEC20991:2018  /  Comment: 0

First thing came in my mind about Aryabhata spacecraft, which was India’s first satellite, when I read about the launch of ISO/TS 20991:2018 Space systems – Requirements for small spacecraft, which is first of its kind of publication on guidelines for small space crafts.


The Aryabhata spacecraft, named after the famous Indian astronomer, was India’s first satellite; it was completely designed and fabricated in India and launched by a Soviet Kosmos-3M rocket from Kapustin Yar on April 19, 1975[1].

Dis-assembled mode tests of Aryabhatta[1]


spacecraft is a vehicle or device (object) designed for travel or operation outside the Earth’s atmosphere, whereas a satellite is an object that orbits the Earth, the moon, or another celestial body. There are natural satellites, like the moon, and artificial satellites, like the Hubble Space Telescope.

 Aircraft fly through air and spacecraft fly in space. … That’s why jet engines can’t work in space, so rocket engines must be used instead.


The scope of this document (ISO/TS 20991:2018)encompasses different categories of small spacecraft — so-called mini-, micro-, nano-, pico- and femto-, as well as CubeSat, spacecraft. Therefore, for the sake of convenience, the term “small spacecraft” is used throughout this document as a generic term [3].


ISO/TS 20991 was developed by ISO technical committee ISO/TC 20, Aircraft and space vehicles,subcommittee SC 14, Space systems and operations, whose secretariat is held by ANSI, ISO’s member for the USA [2].


Paul Gill, Chair of the ISO technical subcommittee that developed the document, said that up to 2 600 small spacecraft are estimated to launch over the next five years, many of them made by new operators.

“ISO/TS 20991 will be of great benefit to small spacecraft developers, as well as launch operators, by providing the minimum requirements to ensure their safety and debris mitigation,” he explained[2].