Analysis and design of the mechanical systems onboard a microsatellite in low-earth orbit : an assessment study

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


A study of the mechanical systems contributing to the design and performance of a picosatellite's mission in low-Earth orbit (LEO) was performed through design and analysis. The unique architecture of this satellite stems from a form factor established by the internationally recognized CubeSat Program. This CubeSat-Plus architecture limits the satellite's size to be no larger than a 10 x 10 x 15 cm cube with an overall mass not exceeding 2 kg. This satellite would then be launch into LEO and conduct on-orbit GPS measurements while remaining tethered to the second stage booster of a Boeing Delta II Launch Vehicle (LV). To ensure the structural integrity of the satellite, Finite Element Analysis (FEA) was conducted on all primary, secondary, and tertiary structural constituents to determine the maximum stresses experienced by the satellite during launch, deployment, and while in orbit around Earth. All space deliverable platforms must be designed in strength to satisfy a predetermined standard as set forth by the LV provider. Theoretical characterization of the dynamic environment coupled with the equation of motion, and static failure modes were the primary constituents of this assessment study. Consequential data sets piloted the assessment criterion and a means of implementing conclusive remarks. The design of this satellite will reveal evidence of system level design philosophies that were required given the extremely small form factor. The satellite's on-orbit thermal environment was quantified and characterized using finite difference techniques and solar simulation software. The extremely dynamic behavior of a LEO satellite required a fundamental understanding of both long wave and shortwave thermal radiation along with creative strategies to ensure on-orbit thermal stability for the satellite's electrical components. Thermal Desktop was employed to develop an accurate thermal model by which to assess incident radiation, conductive and radiative heat management, and temperature-dependent mechanical responses of the satellite's structure and working systems. Conclusions from both the design efforts and model analyses show that this picosatellite is both sufficiently strong to survive the expected launch loads, and provides a thermally stable environment for the components housed within its interior.




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