satellite mass categories

There are many different ways to classify artificial satellites – by function, type of orbit, cost, size, and so forth. Classification by mass is useful because it has a direct bearing on the launcher vs. cost tradeoff. The table below illustrates a scheme for classifying satellites in terms of deployed mass that has been generally adopted in recent years. The masses listed refer to in-orbit fully-fueled ("wet mass"). Within this scheme the term "small satellite" is used to cover all spacecraft with in-orbit masses of less than 500 kg. Particular agencies and organizations may have their own names for certain categories. For example, small satellites are referred to by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as LightSats, by the U.S. Naval Space Command as SPINSat's (Single Purpose Inexpensive Satellite Systems), and the U.S. Air Force as TACSat's (Tactical Satellites).


category mass range (kg)
large satellite > 1,000
medium-sized satellite 500-1,000
minisatellite 100-500
microsatellite 10-100
nanosatellite 1-10
femtosatellite < 0.1