Proceedings of the

The 33rd European Safety and Reliability Conference (ESREL 2023)
3 – 8 September 2023, Southampton, UK

Statistical Analysis and Modelling of Small Satellite Reliability

Kaiqi Xu1,a, Mario Brito1,b, Charlie Young2, M.K.S. Al-Mhdawi3, Nicholas Dacre1,c and David Baxter4

1Decision Analytics & Risk, University of Southampton, United Kingdom.

2Plastron UK, United Kingdom.

3School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies, Teesside University, United Kingdom.

4Southampton Business School, University of Southampton, United Kingdom.


Smaller launching systems and highly reliable components have become dominant demand in the small satellite sector. This notwithstanding small satellites have been the cause of the majority of space debris. It is therefore correct to ask, what is the survivability of small satellites? To address this question a small satellite database was constructed based on 4567 small satellites deployed from 1990 to 2022. All satellites are restricted with a launch mass of no more than 500kg. In this paper, we present the survival distributions for different types of satellites based on satellite mass category, standard compliance and subsystem contribution. Our findings show that after the successful launch, microsatellites and minisatellites are equally reliable within the first 20 years on-orbit, with approximately a 98% reliability rate. Compared to microsatellites and minisatellites, picosatellites and nanosatellites exhibit high infant mortality and short lifetimes, which is no more than 10 years. We have found that the small satellite designed based on ECSS (European Cooperation for Space Standardization) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) standards have a relatively higher reliability rate than that of satellites that comply with JAXA and other standards. With respect to subsystem behaviour, the communication system is the major contributor to small satellite failure, thus designers should pay more attention to addressing no signal, and software disconnection-related problems.

Keywords: Reliability, Small satellite, Statistical analysis, On-orbit failure, Mass, Standard.

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