CubeSat and Small Satellite Systems Engineering - NanoAvionics

CubeSat and Small Satellite Systems Engineering

  • 2024-01-23

At the forefront of our CubeSat and small satellite manufacturing is systems engineering. This discipline is essential in integrating various subsystems and components to create a fully functional CubeSat or small satellite. Our engineers meticulously design and analyze each CubeSat’s architecture, ensuring that all subsystems work in unison to meet customer mission objectives.

CubeSat Mission Analysis and Design

A thorough mission analysis and design phase for CubeSats encompasses power and thermal management, data and power budgets, mechanical design, flight dynamics, attitude determination and control systems (ADCS), among other considerations. A deep understanding of our customer’s mission enables our System Design Engineers to make the required tradeoffs and propose the most viable CubeSat architecture for the mission.

Power Budget Analysis

Power budgeting evaluates the system power requirements and CubeSat’s power generation capabilities, which can be affected by factors such as:

  • Power consumption of payload and platform components,
  • Solar cell efficiency and degradation over time,
  • Battery capacity and degradation over time,
  • Solar array design,
  • The satellite’s orbit,
  • Mission duty cycles,
  • Concept of operations (CONOPS), and more.

By considering all these factors, our System Design Engineers configure efficient power distribution and management systems and make performance-power tradeoffs for every CubeSat subsystem. Properly scaling the solar arrays and batteries ensures sufficient power margins during the entire lifetime of the CubeSat or small satellite in orbit.

Link Budget Analysis

Link budget analysis for CubeSats estimates the quality of the communication links between the CubeSat and ground stations. It involves signal loss calculations based on the orbit and antenna design, and signal-to-noise ratio analysis. These considerations help determine the appropriate communication systems and protocols for successful data transmission in CubeSats.

Software and Electronics Requirements for Small Satellites

With a wide range of customer missions, our software and electronics requirements for CubeSats are ever-evolving. System Design Engineers gather and define high-level and detailed requirements for each CubeSat through collaboration with stakeholders, that include our customers, subcontractors, and other engineering departments. The software requirements provide inputs for Software Engineers to develop robust algorithms, command and control systems, and data handling capabilities for CubeSats. Meanwhile, electronics requirements give our Electronics Engineers guidelines on required hardware performance, electromagnetic interference (EMI) levels, and reliability criteria against radiation effects in CubeSats.

Satellite Architecture and Subsystem Specifications

Once requirements are set and all tradeoffs are analyzed, our System Design Engineers define the CubeSat’s architecture – the overall structure, interfaces, and subsystem specifications that balance functionality, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. This determines how different software and electronic components interact and how the data flows between them in satellites. The challenge here is ensuring each subsystem works seamlessly with one another in an integrated system. To accelerate this process, we have used our experience from over 80 different satellite missions to create 25 standard satellite bus configurations. These off-the-shelf satellite buses can accommodate 80% of our customer missions, including many CubeSat projects, saving time and costs while improving reliability.

Worst-Case Analysis and Risk Management Plans

Conducting worst-case analysis and developing comprehensive risk management plans for satellites helps identify potential failure scenarios and provides contingency plans to ensure the CubeSat’s resilience in critical situations. The results of these analyses aid us in optimizing the CubeSat’s design, and implementing appropriate risk mitigation strategies.

Payload Interface Requirements

Understanding the specific payload interface requirements is essential to guarantee seamless integration with our small satellites and functionality. Each payload or mission concept for CubeSats may have unique power, data transfer, and mechanical requirements that Systems Design Engineers must carefully consider when designing custom CubeSats. This includes electrical, data, thermal and mechanical interfaces, and support structures to ensure compatibility and optimal functioning. Our standard buses, however, have defined electrical, thermal, and mechanical interface envelopes that fit many different payloads, including those for CubeSats, without any significant modifications that would otherwise extend a project’s timeline.

Read more about CubeSat and small satellite system engineering in NASA’s State-of-the-Art of Small Spacecraft Technology report.