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:
- TSA agents attempting to open the luggage and inspect it
- Passengers or flight attendants roughly handling the luggage while attempting to pack the overhead bins
- 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.