Background: I am a part of a university student team building a CubeSat due to be launched this September. Around mid-June, we will need to transport the CubeSat from its current location in Ohio to Houston, Texas to turn it over to the company that will be managing the launch. The original plan was to transport the satellite on our university-owned private plane. However, due to the COVID-19 situation, our planes are grounded until further notice, leaving us with the option of either driving or taking a standard commercial flight (CMH to HOU or IAH). Flying would be much more convenient for us considering that we are operating on a very tight schedule, but we would like to minimize the risk of damage to the CubeSat as much as possible, considering it is a very sensitive and expensive (over $100,000 in total parts cost) piece of equipment. The CubeSat is small enough that it can be packed with protective foam into a case such as this one, which should be small enough to bring as carry-on luggage on most airlines. The CubeSat does contain lithium-ion batteries, but considering that the total capacity is below 40 Wh and they are "part of a device", I don't think there should be any regulations preventing us from bringing it as a carry-on.

Are there any special considerations we should be aware of when attempting to bring such a fragile and expensive item as a carry on? I was not able to find much info online about anybody who has done this before. I can imagine at least a few potential risks such as:

  1. TSA agents attempting to open the luggage and inspect it
  2. Passengers or flight attendants roughly handling the luggage while attempting to pack the overhead bins
  3. The plane running out of space for carry-on luggage and requiring bags to be checked instead, subjecting the luggage to potentially rough handling by airline employees

Are there any additional risks we are not considering or any suggestions as to how to best mitigate the listed risks? At least #3 could be mitigated simply by declining to board the plane if there was no space for carry-on luggage. For options #1 and #2, is there any sort of special paperwork or documentation we could obtain in advance to warn TSA agents or airline employees about the sensitive contents of the luggage? Do any airlines offer insurance for such valuable items in carry-on luggage?

Any help is appreciated.

  • 64
    Have you looked into air cargo options? That way the handling is entirely the responsibility of the airline, and you can surely get insurance in whatever amount you need. It won't be cheap but certainly still less than the cost of a private flight. Also, your university's risk management office may have some useful advice (or requirements) about insurance options. Commented May 10, 2020 at 22:44
  • 64
    The launch company might also have some suggestions, since presumably all of their clients have the same issue. Commented May 11, 2020 at 1:22
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Willeke
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 7:02
  • I hope you'll come back after the launch is over and let us know what you ended up doing and how well it worked out. You can post an answer to your own question, and an answer with the specifics of your experience could be helpful to other people.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 14:32
  • 8
    Just out of curiosity... how did it go?
    – STT LCU
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 14:18

14 Answers 14


This is something you will need to talk directly to the airline about, or a specialist freight carrier or courier.

Most airlines offer a high value item service, where special care and attention is taken with your item, and most airlines will be able to work with you for any specific requirements you require - for example, a controlled environment et al.

These high value items are treated differently in regard to security as well - you won't get random TSA employees opening and handling the items, they will be vetted according to a set of criteria that you, the airline and the TSA will agree on (for example, they can inspect the item in your controlled environment, and accept the consignment from that point in a locked box).

You may be allowed to accompany the item on its journey, if that is part of your travel criteria.

You may want to talk to UPS or Fedex directly, rather than an airline.

If you just show up at the airport with the box, you will be rejected - especially if you attempt to stop airport security from inspecting it.

  • 30
    Not to mention the poorly educated TSA agents thinking it is a bomb.
    – boatcoder
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 13:58
  • 36
    Side note: "et al" is "and others" and is used to refer to people (often in a list of authors on a paper). "et cetera" (or "etc.") is "and other similar things" or "and so forth" and is used for referring to non-human things. Totally OT, I know, but it caught my attention.
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 14:24
  • 2
    @boatcoder I imagine a well educated TSA agent, thinking it may be a bomb - and thinking "That would be so brilliant, I'll not mess that up..."! Commented May 11, 2020 at 14:40
  • 2
    @FreeMan Although et al. is usually short for et alii or et aliae, it can also be short for et alia, meaning the same as et cetera, though I don't use it this way myself. Commented May 12, 2020 at 17:19
  • 2
    @RobertFurber and FreeMan - Coincidentally (..or not?), this question just popped up over at the English SE - "Et cetera versus et alia"
    – BruceWayne
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 22:36

Drive. Insurance won't help with something you can't replace and may not have time to repair, and you don't want the stress dealing with the risks of handing over control.

Do yourself a favour and drive your satellite yourself; with at least two (preferably three) drivers you can easily drive 2000 km in two days and by driving you save yourself a lot of stress and risks (and some money too). The main problem with your cargo is not that it's fragile and expensive. the main problem is that it's practically irreplaceable. If there's any significant damage, you won't be able to repair it on time for the launch, and for a student cubesat, there's a large risk it will never fly at all if you miss this launch opportunity. If you ship an expensive new car and the shipping company wrecks it, you can buy a new one with the insurance money. Not so for a student satellite you built (or unique artwork, or something of very high personal value). Of course driving is not without risks. Getting a payload to orbit is perhaps the riskiest part of the entire project, and the risk is dominated by the launch. You'll surely be driving carefully, so a drive on mostly easy roads in a good vehicle in safe weather should be no problem at all. I don't know if any satellites were ever lost during the drive to the spaceport.

Decades ago, long before modern security checks, a senior scientist at the Swedish Institute for Space Physics (IRF) took a satellite (I believe Swedens first research satellite) in his hand luggage on an intercontinental flight, holding it on his lap all the time (source: personal communication). Even then, he was seriously questioned, both when entering the plane (which applies to you) and when entering the country (which doesn't). I don't know if he had contacted the airport or airline in advance. Today, I predict you might anticipate severe inspection at best when security asks what you are carrying and you're telling them it's a satellite, with the risk of the item being refused. I've faced additional questioning for something as simple as a satellite phone myself. The unknown is dangerous. They'll likely never have seen a cubesat before. They can't see what's inside. Maybe they'll let you take it, but do you really want that stress?

(Irrelevant intermezzo, true story at the Swedish Space Campus, skip if you wish: our balloon experiment had a nozzle sticking out of it. This didn't stop the prime minister's assistant from asking us to switch it on as the prime minister was standing half a metre in front of it. Some places are more trusting than others.)

I would recommend against shipping if you can avoid it. When we were launching our student experiments on a balloon from Esrange (Sweden), some teams had shipped their experiments, and one team almost lost theirs, official tracking having lost it, requiring some detective work to retrieve it on a Sunday (it took a "friend of a friend" of a local person to bypass the regulations to find it) as we were going to start integrating so it was "now or never". Others had been driving for days to carry their experiments in; and those were cheaper than yours by an order of magnitude at least (when assigning a value of $0 to the student's time, that is).

Of course, there are dedicated freight services for super special cargo. Everything has a price, when a large satellite is shipped from Europe to French Guyana that is budgeted for, both in time and money. The cargo in this case is well in excess of $100,000. I don't think that any UPS drivers would be directly involved, and I don't know if such companies would deal with a measly cubesat (or within your budget).

Insurance is of limited use here. Even if it's damaged and they pay you, it's not like you can buy a new one from the shop or will have the time to rebuild it if lost or even repair it if damaged. The value is to a large degree non-monetary. Consider the two days of driving as the insurance premium against the risk of weeks or months of work to repair any damages, even if an insurance were to pay for the components. If you still want to go the insurance route: satellite insurance exists. However, I don't know if they have plans for small student-built cubesats. I'd expect they're rather aimed at big commercial satellites such as communication satellites, which will be rebuilt if the satellite fails to make it to orbit, which is almost always during launch.

  • 8
    @EricDuminil Nothing is safe, least of all the launch. Driving with three experienced and well rested drivers (UPS drivers are experienced, not so sure if they're always well rested if reports about their work scheduled are accurate) probably puts the payload at much less risk than the launch, but transport of the payload is always at risk and has gone wrong for some very expensive satellites or satellite instruments.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 12:54
  • 6
    Driving is absolutely safe for any reasonable definition of safe. Truck drivers drive 650 miles a day by themselves 5 days a week if not more. With two people over two days it's an utterly trivial task. The odds of anything happening are astronomically low -- is be most worried about the virus but with how packed flights are these days driving is much safer in that regard too.
    – eps
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 14:02
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    Ohio to Houston is a particularly easy drive, especially if you go through Louisiana because you can avoid all the major trucking routes And it's easy highway/interstate driving the whole way.
    – eps
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 14:12
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    +1 for focusing in the irreplaceable nature of the object vs the cost of the components. Additionally, I've made an 1800 mile east-west solo drive across 1/2 the US in 2 days carrying a far more precious cargo - ME! I've made that same drive in 24 hours straight through with 2 drivers. It's entirely doable by one person, though I agree that 2 or 3 drivers to share the responsibility would be preferable and much cheaper than flying.
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 14:31
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    Instead of arguing over the meaning of the word "safe" it should be possible to find some actual statistics. Injury accidents per vehicle-mile seems like the right thing to look for, since even a non-fatal accident might damage the device. This could let you estimate the probability of the device being damaged in an accident along your journey, and you could compare that to some estimate of the risk of damage in air travel or shipping. Commented May 11, 2020 at 15:47

Source: I had a small hand in a cubesat built in West Virginia and was around during launch integration preparation.

Our contract lead filed paperwork ahead of time with the TSA. (Various forms, I wish I knew what exactly they were, but it was a waiting game.) The forms outlined the capabilities of the cubesat, who would be transporting it, what dates and flights they would be on. The forms were transported with the satellite and presented to TSA officers. Basically as soon as they hit a TSA checkpoint, TSA management was called to confirm they were on a list with pre-approved special luggage.

The cubsesat was tranported in an anti-static bag and then within a pelican case as you have shown in your link. The case was locked, and never opened or x-rayed by TSA (that's the point of that special paperwork).

All they did was spring for exit row seats, and keep the pelican case beneath the seat / between their legs at all times. We flew our sat that way, and a colleague flew his satellite that way as well.

Good luck!

EDIT: You didn't specify the dimensions of your cubesat, the ones mentioned above were both 3Us.


Contact a parcel carrier such as UPS, DHL, Fedex, etc. They all have options for delivering high value items which may or may not meet your needs. For instance, DHL offers a separate delivery vehicle with two drivers and live GPS tracking along the way. UPS has "UPS Express Critical" service for perishable goods with guaranteed schedule and controlled environment.

Professional couriers will handle potential troubles with carrier and security much better than you would.

  • 4
    Most major shipping companies actually have specialized services/solutions designed for the aerospace industry. Your local UPS store likely won't know anything about them, but you can contact a sales rep through the corporate office for details.
    – bta
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 22:49
  • Approximately how much does that kind of service cost? It sounds very expensive, and given that this is a student project (even if one that can produce expensive hardware), I'm not sure that kind of spending would be approved by a university. If they did want to put in the time and cost required then the university should just use their own private plane right?
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:10

I'd say driving is probably preferable, but our lab has transported cubesats as hand luggage on commercial flights before. We use the same type of packaging as you describe. I think you'd be surprised at the variety of things TSA see. They may not have seen a cubesat before, but they've definitely seen plenty of weird stuff, including electronics. If you go that route, I'd definitely recommend advance coordination with the airline and the TSA inspection station at the airport. If you have cleanroom requirements, advance coordination is especially important to prevent them from opening it for inspection. I think our cases also had "NASA Critical Spaceflight Hardware" stickers, which probably helped. If you're taking this to NanoRacks in Houston, they should have plenty of experience with this, particularly talking to carriers, so I'd reach out to them and ask for professional advice. They should also be able to provide you with some sort of documentation to show to TSA.

Another option here could be ground freight, which we've also used. If you pack the cubesat in a big wooden crate or IATA case that needs a pallet jack to move, it's likely to be treated much nicer by UPS than a Pelican case that can be thrown in the back of a truck. Climate control could be a concern here, but there are climate controlled shippers, and the cubesat requirements usually specify a pretty broad temperature and humidity range just to deal with the fairing environment on the launch pad anyways.


The word you're looking for is supercargo

That is a human: the responsible person whose job it is to physically escort the cargo.

It is perfectly common when you have a high-6-digit payload like this. Recognize that the valuation is not your material costs with labor free. Valuation is the cost of having Rocketdyne or Boeing build you another one at their fully charged "your work goes ahead of Elon Musk" rates, and not their "sitting around because of COVID and happy for any work we can get" rates.

So you talk to cargo shippers, and you tell them there will be a supercargo traveling with the package. That is precisely why Fedex and UPS planes have 3-4 passenger seats in them.

This will invert the dialogue from "the thing is about J. Random traveler with suspicious luggage of no value, that if we're not sure about, we should just deny, arrest and detonate"... to "the thing is about this million dollar satellite, and not surprisingly, they sent along a supercargo, a human of little importance compared to the cargo".

  • Does Fedex really let random customers ride along their flights? All I can find is that they offer their own security as an option for high-value packages: customcritical.fedex.com/us/services/secure/air.shtml Commented May 11, 2020 at 23:22
  • I wouldn't expect to find it on their website lol... it's optional on FedEx ' part, they have no obligation to do it...either you are a 600lb gorilla or FedEx likes you. Commented May 12, 2020 at 0:38
  • 1
    Very interesting. Now I want to know what price range this would cost :) Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article on supercargo seems to only cover 18th century Sweden, which is interesting, but a bit limited in applicability.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 12:12
  • 1
    @gerrit well, like lambs is running into, it's too obscure and special-cased for Google. They probably just call it an escort, but supercargo is a correct word. This wiIl be negotiated on a case by case basis, it's not a formal part of any tariff that you can tack on an escorter for $x more. Commented May 12, 2020 at 21:53

For shipping and transportation, your greatest risk for misadventure is not on the long-haul part of the journey, but at the hand-offs.

Damage is most likely to happen during loading and unloading, during shifting and settling at the beginning of a journey and through mishandling in hubs and depots.

Items don't get "lost" during transit. They got lost as they move through sorting systems and through mislabelling.

For all the talk about accidents per vehicle mile, the reality is that the safest way to transport this is by hand carrying it. You avoid the real risks of misadventure. Sure, driving is more dangerous than flying if you only consider the risk of movement, but that's really not what's going to break your CubeSat

  • 2
    Yes, the risk is in other people who are less careful handling or even being around it. If it is surrounded only by people who care about it and know how to protect it then it is relatively very safe, even if the mode of transport is slightly (and I do mean slightly) more dangerous
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:14

Jcaron hit that in his comment.

If your university can afford their own private jet they have enough cash to:

  • Pay for delicate cargo delivery with all service. Large, precious, expensive assemblies are being transported all the time. It is safe, it is usual, it is just not cheap.
  • Fly the grounded plane on their own since it will be a cargo flight, excluded from COVID bans.

By the way; you are students and your aim here is to design the satellite not to organize its delivery under unpredictable conditions. If your department, faculty and university are serious about the project, they will use their means to sort it out, so you can focus on the design and construction part.

I'm from Europe which was the first region where the plague spread uncontrollably (Excluding China). Everything except mandatory things like grocery shopping and drug stores was closed or banned from March 13 here, Now in May we are slowly lifting those bans. September is long time ahead and neither and no one knows what will happen in July and August. So again, lift this problem to someone, who has more tools and actual responsibility - university officials.

  • If they wanted to go through the hassle and expense of that, why wouldn't they just use their private jet instead? I know the OP said it was grounded, but they should investigate that option first
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:19
  • 3
    Note that what a university can afford is changing rapidly these days. Many are imposing drastic and immediate budget cuts. The grounding of the plane may be partly financial. Commented May 13, 2020 at 3:36
  • Still, if the Univeristy can/could afford their own jet means they can afford to pay for adequate transportation. And the OPs student project is probably funded through a project with some budget that was already allocated.
    – Crowley
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 22:56

Checked baggage is a risk no matter how well you pack it...and if you disclose that it's both delicate and very valuable, the airline's T&C will require that you execute a Waiver of Liability before they'll carry it.

Thus, treat it as though it's a irreplaceable musical instrument:

a) Make sure CubeSat's container can be easily opened so you can remove CubeSat for inspection at TSA Security; and

b) Buy two adjacent seats on each flight so CubeSat can ride in the seat next to the person conveying it to Houston.

  • 17
    Removing flight ready hardware for inspection in a non-environmentally-controlled situation might not be acceptable to the OP - I'd be very surprised if they were happy with this. Which means that treating this as standard carry on in any way, shape or form is pretty much out of the question.
    – user29788
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 3:15
  • 5
    @Moo I don't dispute that at all. If the carrying box is not openable for inspection, a conventional carryon process won't work. Commented May 11, 2020 at 3:36
  • 2
    Our environmental requirements are not too strict, and the hardware itself is enclosed in a clear polycarbonate protective enclosure inside the case, so we will have no problem with the case being opened for inspection. However, we would be concerned with any excessive handling by TSA agents including opening the internal polycarbonate enclosure as the solar panels on the outside of the satellite are very delicate and should not be touched outside of a controlled environment. Buying a seat for the hardware is a good idea that would seem to eliminate most of the non-TSA related risks.
    – Ryan
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 5:28
  • 3
    @Ryan You can be sure the internal enclosure will be opened too.
    – Nobody
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 7:28
  • 2
    It's not that unusual to get a second seat for valuable luggage. Musicians with expensive instruments to it all the time. As an alternative, book a first class seat for the person carrying it. First class gets priority boarding and isn't going to run out of carry on space. Commented May 11, 2020 at 12:52

Congrats on participating in such a nice project. Only one person can tell you what is best to do, and this is your boss/professor/supervisor aka the person in charge and resposible for this project. Ask her and do what she says. All option are actually fine and the chance of the thing getting damaged is really low, but if it gets damaged you want to have done what your boss thinks was best.

Just a note: dont forget to use the right kinds of ESD bags in the correct order (I know you know, but I have seen too much, also in space technology).

  • 1
    "the chance of the thing getting damaged is really low" Have you been on commercial flights? I've had a number of things lost or broken, and I don't travel with $100,000 irreplaceable satellites
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:22
  • Also I get weird looks travelling with juggling equipment (balls, clubs, etc.), much less a satellite in a suspicious looking case
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:23
  • I mean if you keep it as hand luggage. Also I think one shd be able to tolerate weird looks.
    – lalala
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 11:34
  • I've had TSA agents pull out juggling equipment, squeeze them, put them through additional scanning and testing, etc., which is fine in my case, but that kind of handling could break sensitive equipment. Plus I think the level of suspicion would be much higher for something like a satellite than it is for a couple of balls
    – Kevin
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 15:27
  • @KevinWells: ::slow clap:: Commented May 13, 2020 at 23:49

Since your University was going to use a private jet for this transfer, I think it would be more consistent to ask university administrators about a similar alternative. I don't see how they would approve of a personal vehicle being used for university business as a cargo truck. Nor would they sign off on using a standard airfare on a commercial airliner. Your legal team would possibly be wanting this to be handled by a courier or shipping agent.

I would write a letter to the provost, the dean, head legal counsel, or other senior management and list the problems, potential solutions, and the time constraints envisioned. I would mention that the launch company might have solutions, but that however the transfer occurs, you want to know if the standard university insurance will cover it.

I believe the decisions should be considered by them. Furthermore, you can now make an appeal to people who should be more familiar with the movement of critical and expensive items. Some of these people might have an elite membership at a bank, finance company, or brokerage. They might have one of those fabled "black" cards with all of those perks.

If so, and if this is out of their league of expertise, they could just call their concierge (white glove) service and ask them. In their eyes, this is just a standard "travel" problem for a person with a costly bauble. As in, "Ho - hum." Your $100,000 item would not even be particularly noteworthy. Such an elite service company might be able to send out a personal courier, a private jet, and a locked safe for your precious cargo. The provost can negotiate that and leave you to work on the CubeSat and leave the university admins to work on their golf game.

Problem solved. Everyone is happy.

  • I don't think the university will respond to how you think they will (it's only a $100k student project, after all), but asking them is certainly a good idea.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 7:37
  • CubeSat is a high profile student project. If you have not looped in your PR people, do (because exposure). If you have, loop them into this conversation to be sure your administrator understands. Commented May 13, 2020 at 23:48

Use the commercial flight, identify and insure your package appropriately,but have the fall-back: another flight, and eventually the drive.

No document you can carry, or conversation you can have, will save you from misguided authority. That said, once you and the package are on the flight very little can go wrong; it is much safer to fly this distance than to drive it. Be ready to have that failure right up until the doors close; remember that a flight crew member might also make an unreasonable request that would force you to deplane.

Then fall back to a second attempt at a flight, or eventually the drive. Remember, there are not rules against strange objects, but people with absolute power to stop you regardless of what is legal stand between you and your goal. I once deplaned over a nice map the stewardess simply had to put in the above compartment. I walked, and payed $200 to try again. The next person was more friendly. People are unpredictable. Simply budget for them in time and money.

Having flown with less expensive, but similarly weird-looking things, you should be ready with an official (letterhead, color, ink signature) letter describing the contents of your package, and a person available at the phone number on it. As the director of my lab, I have another PhD in my lab make these up, and be ready by the phone. I have also found that dressing the part of scientist, with a button down shirt, business cards, and nice shoes, can really help.

Again, be ready to walk away without unpleasantness, and have a plan that makes this OK.

  • 1
    The problem I think is that it's extremely unlikely that the authorities would just let them walk away. If they are attempting to board a plane with a suspicious box of electronics, that they aren't allowing to go through the x-ray nor searched, TSA isn't going to just let them decide to leave (another commenter pointed out that such sensitive electronics probably can't be taken out of their antistatic bag and exposed to dust or other environmental factors). There will be further investigation, maybe with force, perhaps a lengthy detention. This could be quite unpleasant for the students.
    – ibennetch
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 14:47
  • 1
    While it is safer to fly a given distance than it is to drive it, they aren't worried about a catastrophic accident, they are worried about general mishandling, which is a much bigger problem when flying than it is with driving. The chances of an actual accident is low with either method of transportation, much lower than other risks that the project deems acceptable. The chances that someone drops the case, inspects it improperly, steps on it, crushes it under other luggage, etc. is orders of magnitude higher during a flight than during a drive with your project team
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:35
  • My experience is otherwise. I travel with similarly odd things regularly, some packed in antistatic bags. Identifying and insuring cargo, as others have noted, removes many of the barriers you fear. It cannot ensure everything goes perfectly. You can, in fact, walk away; I have never been detained. Agents sometimes request to swab equipment, and may open the case. I have never had an agent open an anti-static covering. They do see sensitive electronics with some regularity. Commented May 13, 2020 at 23:24
  • A thought, OP, have you tried putting this up at academia.stackexchange? Many scientists are quite comfortable with this scenario, and you will get different responses. Commented May 13, 2020 at 23:45

Not particularly suggesting flying the thing down commercial, but if you do, there is one thing that can reduce the risks.... Pack a (legal) hand gun or starters pistol in the case with the expensive thing, and inform the TSA agent of this before attempting to check the bag (Don't worry the process diverges from normal at this point).

You and your case will be taken aside, the case contents inspected in your presence, a seal applied and the case will then be handed to the flight crew who will keep it in the cockpit for the flight. On arrival it will be again inspected by the TSA (also in your presence) and the seal removed.

This is done for the TSAs benefit, not yours because their nightmare scenario is a lost luggage report involving the loss of a handgun airside at a major airport, but it has the side effect of making sure your stuff is handled better, not molested and that nobody steals anything, popular with photographers and field recordists who both fly with delicate, expensive things.

  • Honestly I can't tell if you're kidding. Taking a handgun into an airport, even if you plan on alerting the TSA agent, is a quick way to get your trip massively derailed. They won't just calmly pull the case aside and put it in the cockpit for you, they would detain you, question why you brought a gun along with what could potentially be a bomb, and why you would then ask them to transport it for you in the cockpit of an airplane. The way they would avoid their "nightmare scenario" that you describe is to not let you within a mile of one of their planes
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:26
  • 3
    And do you have any source to back up the idea that this is commonly done by photographers?
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:26
  • 1
    schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/09/expensive_camer.html Bruce Schneier, hardly authoritative, but generally reliable on these matters. Note that policy changes over time, so you will want to check with your airline as well as the TSA.
    – Dan Mills
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 9:41
  • The handgun trick is good for expensive stuff that's likely to be stolen. It's not so good for expensive stuff that's likely to be broken.
    – Mark
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 1:57
  • I wonder how many of the downvoters read the Expensive Cameras in Checked Luggage link that Dan cited. I'd guess it was none. The "weapon" quited was a starter pistol - which initiaites the TSA procedure . Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 2:10

This answer provides information on acceleration forces in various situations and is intended to add to transportation related answers.

Cubesats are designed to withstand substantial acceleration forces and vibration.
Forces under the design specification should be able to be achieved during transportation:

With 1/4 metre of linear deceleration - so about a 500mm/side package. and 10g limit Vmax is about 7 m/s - exceedingly unlikely. So a suitably designed package should be 'very safe' for transport .

  • Depending on the cube sat design specs a maximum size hard foam packed box carried in a station wagon or van would probably save it from a worst case accident.

  • In a DHL/UPS/ .... truck a well designed long box (2m plus) of not vast cross section would survive frontal deceleration in almost any conceivable accident and side protection could be designed to suit what seems likely worst case.

  • And, in an airline hold, a tolerably large very light box could be designed that would survive any handling liable to be meted out by the most enthusiastic baggage handlers - the more so if treated as fragile.
    In this case maximum impact velocity from handling should be under say 5 m/s.

In a vehicle accident deceleration forces in the direction of travel are ~=
g_forces = V^2/(20 x d)

V - metres per second
d - stopping distance in metres
At say 30 m/s ~= 108 kph ~= 67 mph
g = 45/d

To get <= 10g you need 4.5 metres stopping distance.
To get 100g you need 0.45m stopping distance.
In a 'station wagon' you'd probably not manage more than 1m longitudinally for about 50g at 67 mph into a solid wall with no vehicle compression.

  • Do the two anonymous "THis answer is not useful" downvoters not understand the answer, nor it's point, or is there some other issue they could raise that would make their downvotes clear? [I'm used to downvotes on answers that address useful peripheral issues that might be of value to the OP. But I do wonder at the mindsets of such people.] Commented May 17, 2020 at 10:47
  • This is some abstract arithmetic that does not help solve the question. There are plenty of ways for things to be damaged other than an ideally elastic collision. Baggage machines can shred suitcases into pieces. Trucks can crush your vehicle from the side. Bags can be misrouted to the wrong place. A TSA agent can open the thing and start disassembling it.
    – Calchas
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 17:48
  • @Calchas Answer rearranged but content the same. || The arithmetic is neither complex or abstract. If you do not understand it it does not alter the conclusions. Your various "what if ..." examples do not detract from the point I was making. Yes, indeed, the sky may fall in, or equivalent, it does happen. But, as noted in this and the original arrangement , the "extra information" in the answer was intended to inform a decision, not constitute a complete answer. "Not useful" indicates a significant misunderstanding of the meaning of "useful". Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 2:05
  • The apparent lack of understanding of this answer is "interesting". Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 3:29

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