I. Literature Review

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CubeSat Deorbit Devices

Final Report

Old Dominion University

Project Design & Management II

April 26, 2011

Dr. Robert Ash

Lindsey Andrews

Jake Tynis

Joshua Laub


The integration of electronic devices and subsystems within a satellite bus is not a trivial issue in the design of a spacecraft. The benefit of this research is immediately apparent, expanding experiment opportunities using low-cost access to space utilizing the CubeSat platform. However, once orbit has been achieved, a CubeSat's lifetime is finite and can be on the order of decades. This research has shown that an effective deorbit device can be deployed to shorten the lifetime of a CubeSat. This technology is becoming more valuable as the total number of CubeSats in orbit increases. The future safety of the earth orbit environment with regards to orbital debris depends on the ability to safely deorbit nanosatellites.

Table of Contents

Introduction 5

I. Literature Review 5

II. Rationale 7

III. Project Objective 8

IV. Benefits 8

Proposed Approach 8

Finalized Approach 10

I.Materials 10

Organization 24

Final Deployment Testing 25

Cost Consideration 26

Future Recommendations and Research 28

Summary 29

Appendix 30

I. Works Cited 30

II. Secondary Material 30

III. Microcontroller Source Code 31

List of Figures


I. Literature Review

Low cost access to space has been a driving force since the early days of spaceflight. Over the decades, advances in technology have allowed space structures and avionics to decrease in size. The CubeSat architecture takes advantage of both of these advances.

The CubeSat satellite standard resulted from a collaborative project between California Polytechnic and State University, San Luis Obisbo and Stanford University. A standard 1U CubeSat is a 10 centimeter cube with a maximum total mass of one kilogram or less. The CubeSat design is based on the premise that low-cost access to space can be achieved when these systems are deployed as a secondary payload to a host launch system. In other words, if extra mass is available after the primary spacecraft and associated hardware are designed for a particular launch vehicle, CubeSats can be deployed from the same launch vehicle stack for a very small additional cost. Unfortunately, many of the CubeSat these “satellites of opportunity” have been deployed at orbital altitudes on the order of 900 km, where the CubeSat satellite orbital lifetime can be hundreds of years.

CubeSats are deployed using the Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer, P-POD, as shown in (1)Figure : Six CubeSats and their respective P-POD launcher (1), also developed by California Polytechnic and State University (1).

Figure : Six CubeSats and their respective P-POD launcher (1)

As stated previously, the standard size for a CubeSat is a 10 cm cube (referred to as 1U). This can actually be increased to a maximum size of 10 cm by 10 cm by 30 cm and 3 kilograms (3U). Obviously this is a larger, more expensive endeavor than a standard 1U CubeSat; however it is an option.

The design challenges of CubeSats are very apparent: small size. The small size and mass requirements seriously constrict the payload. The only volume and mass remaining for the experiment is what is left after essential systems have been integrated in the bus. There must be an electrical power system, telemetry, data handling, thermal control, and various other systems that must be incorporated regardless of the actual experiment.

Companies now specialize in the development and sale of commercial off the shelf (COTS) CubeSat subassemblies, as shown in (2)Figure : COTS CubeSat Structure (2). These kits greatly aide in reducing the overall payload development time and enable precise budgeting of many spacecraft elements. The main idea behind CubeSats is to keep cost and development time to a minimum.


Figure : COTS CubeSat Structure (2)

The launching of artificial satellites into earth orbit has produced some unintended consequences. Every satellite has a finite useful lifetime; at some point they will no longer function and thus become debris. Furthermore, a variety of upper launch stages and mating systems often achieve stable long-life orbits even when they have no function other than placing the spacecraft into orbit. As the total number of orbiting satellites and associated debris increases, attention must be focused on minimizing their orbital lifetime. There are currently over two million kilograms of space debris in orbit around the earth (3). Orbital debris can be divided into three distinct groups :(1) accidental or intentional break-ups; (2) intentional release of objects from launch vehicles and spacecraft during deployment; and (3) in-orbit collision-derived creation of space debris (4). These three separate categories may result in objects that have lifetimes greater than 1000 years.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs has prescribed a series of guidelines which are designed to mitigate orbital debris. The guidelines are as follows:

  1. Limit debris released during normal operations

  2. Minimize the potential for break-ups during operational phases

  3. Limit the probability of accidental collision in orbit

  4. Avoid intentional destruction and other harmful activities

  5. Minimize potential for post-mission break-ups resulting from stored energy

  6. Limit the long-term presence of spacecraft and launch vehicle orbital stages in the low-Earth orbit (LEO) region after the end of their lifetime (4)

Guideline six requires that launch stages, their associated hardware and payloads must be designed to result in a timely return to earth at the conclusion of their mission. Additionally, the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) along with NASA and the International Standards Organization (ISO) put a limit on orbital lifetimes for Low Earth Orbit (LEO) of 25 years (5).

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