Special Issue "Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts"

A special issue of Aerospace (ISSN 2226-4310). This special issue belongs to the section "Astronautics & Space Science".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 August 2021) | Viewed by 16496

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Vaios Lappas
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
1. School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, Cranfield University, Bedford MK430AL, UK
2. Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Patras, 265 04 Patras, Greece
Interests: small satellites; launchers; GNC
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Small satellites have become important tools for past and future space missions and applications. The advent of microelectronics, materials, and the availability of low-cost launch options has popularized small satellites more than ever. Capitalizing on new ideas and more frequent and affordable launch access, small satellite technologies are experiencing a renaissance, with new propulsion systems, thrusters, actuators, sensors, radiofrequency technologies (antennas, systems) being some examples of high growth space technology areas making new mission concepts (e.g., mega-constellations) a reality.

This Special Issue on small satellite technologies focuses on the development of hardware, software, algorithms, and novel techniques for small satellite subsystems, components, and platforms, which are pushing the boundaries of current knowledge and capabilities. In addition, contributions are invited on new mission concepts for commercial and scientific purposes that use small satellite technologies/platforms. Earth-focused missions, constellation concepts, and interplanetary missions are all topics currently being explored in various institutional, commercial, and academic environments, and papers are sought detailing advances in orbit experiences as well as novel ideas for future implementation.

Prof. Dr. Vaios Lappas
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • small satellites
  • mission concepts
  • constellations
  • actuators
  • sensors
  • components
  • subsystems
  • earth observation
  • interplanetary missions

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Article
Development of the EIRSAT-1 CubeSat through Functional Verification of the Engineering Qualification Model
Aerospace 2021, 8(9), 254; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace8090254 - 08 Sep 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1210
Abstract
The Educational Irish Research Satellite (EIRSAT-1) is a 2U CubeSat developed at University College Dublin. The project aims to build, test, launch, and operate Ireland’s first satellite and to perform in-orbit demonstrations of three novel payloads developed in-house. To reduce risk within the [...] Read more.
The Educational Irish Research Satellite (EIRSAT-1) is a 2U CubeSat developed at University College Dublin. The project aims to build, test, launch, and operate Ireland’s first satellite and to perform in-orbit demonstrations of three novel payloads developed in-house. To reduce risk within the mission, the project employs a prototype model philosophy in which two models of the spacecraft exist: an engineering qualification model (EQM) and a flight model (FM). This paper presents the verification approach of the functional tests implemented for the EIRSAT-1 project. The activities of the FlatSat and system level full functional tests of the EQM are presented and the results obtained during the test campaigns are discussed. Four test anomalies were encountered during the full functional test campaign resulting in two minor redesigns, and subsequent reassembly, of the CubeSat. The functional test campaigns highlighted the importance of FlatSat level testing of CubeSats to ensure compatibility of all subsystems prior to assembly and of thorough documentation to diagnose any unexpected behaviour of the hardware efficiently. The functional verification of the EQM proved that the system conformed to its design, verifying 57 mission requirements, and is a crucial step towards the development of the EIRSAT-1 FM. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Article
A Complete Mission Concept Design and Analysis of the Student-Led CubeSat Project: Light-1
Aerospace 2021, 8(9), 247; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace8090247 - 04 Sep 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 966
Abstract
Terrestrial gamma ray flashes (TGF) are intense and prompt bursts of X- and gamma-rays of up to 100 MeV of energy. Typically associated with thunderstorm activity, TGFs are produced by bremsstrahlung effects of electrons accelerated in strong electric fields generated by lightning. TGFs [...] Read more.
Terrestrial gamma ray flashes (TGF) are intense and prompt bursts of X- and gamma-rays of up to 100 MeV of energy. Typically associated with thunderstorm activity, TGFs are produced by bremsstrahlung effects of electrons accelerated in strong electric fields generated by lightning. TGFs can be effectively targeted by gamma detectors with enhanced time stamping capabilities onboard of satellites operating at near-Earth low obits (LEO). Light-1 is a miniature satellite, a 3U CubeSat designed to detect, monitor and study terrestrial gamma ray flashes in low Earth orbit. The two payload detectors are composed of a photomultiplier tube and silicon photomultipliers. The two detectors are mounted at two ends of the CubeSat and the proposed orientation of the CubeSat will ensure maximum TGF detection probability. To allow an increased frequency of data downlink, Khalifa University has collaborated with NanoAvionics Corp, and hence Light-1 has access to three ground stations situated across the map, Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates, Vilnius in Lithuania, and Aalborg in Denmark. The satellite expected to launch in late-2021 is currently in its assembly and integration phase. This paper describes mission, concept, objectives, success criteria, design, analysis, status, and the future plans of Light-1 satellite. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Article
Exploring the Habitability of Venus: Conceptual Design of a Small Atmospheric Probe
Aerospace 2021, 8(7), 173; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace8070173 - 25 Jun 2021
Viewed by 983
Abstract
The possible presence of life in the atmosphere of Venus has been debated frequently over the last 60 years. The discussion was recently reignited by the possible detection of phosphine (PH3), but several other chemicals potentially relevant for life processes are [...] Read more.
The possible presence of life in the atmosphere of Venus has been debated frequently over the last 60 years. The discussion was recently reignited by the possible detection of phosphine (PH3), but several other chemicals potentially relevant for life processes are also found in the middle atmosphere. Moreover, the reasons for the heterogeneous ultraviolet (UV) absorption between 320 and 400 nm in the altitude range ∼40–70 km are still not well understood. These aspects could be further studied in-situ by UV Raman and fluorescence instruments. Here, the conceptual design of a small balloon probe (<20 kg) is presented, including a science payload comprising a UV laser, spectrometer, and a telescope. The goal of the proposed mission is to analyse the absorption of UV light in Venus’ atmosphere, to study the atmospheric composition, and to verify the possible presence of biomarkers. Current state-of-the-art technologies would allow a more cost-efficient and easy to develop mission, as compared to previous Venus probes. This article is focused on the scientific instrumentation, as well as on the mass and power budgets required to realise the proposed mission. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Article
InnoCube—A Wireless Satellite Platform to Demonstrate Innovative Technologies
Aerospace 2021, 8(5), 127; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace8050127 - 04 May 2021
Viewed by 1345
Abstract
A new innovative satellite mission, the Innovative CubeSat for Education (InnoCube), is addressed. The goal of the mission is to demonstrate “the wireless satellite”, which replaces the data harness by robust, high-speed, real-time, very short-range radio communications using the SKITH (SKIpTheHarness) technology. This [...] Read more.
A new innovative satellite mission, the Innovative CubeSat for Education (InnoCube), is addressed. The goal of the mission is to demonstrate “the wireless satellite”, which replaces the data harness by robust, high-speed, real-time, very short-range radio communications using the SKITH (SKIpTheHarness) technology. This will make InnoCube the first wireless satellite in history. Another technology demonstration is an experimental energy-storing satellite structure that was developed in the previous Wall#E project and might replace conventional battery technology in the future. As a further payload, the hardware for the concept of a software-based solution for receiving signals from Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) will be developed to enable precise position determination of the CubeSat. Aside from technical goals this work aims to be of use in the teaching of engineering skills and practical sustainable education of students, important technical and scientific publications, and the increase of university skills. This article gives an overview of the overall design of the InnoCube. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Article
Spectral Correlation for Signal Presence Detection and Frequency Acquisition of Small Satellites
Aerospace 2021, 8(2), 57; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace8020057 - 22 Feb 2021
Viewed by 1039
Abstract
Challenges in interference-limited satellite detection arising from the low-earth orbit (LEO) and the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequency bands are addressed. In particular, a novel signal presence detector based on cyclostationary signal properties is proposed and analyzed for a low signal-to-noise-plus-interference ratio [...] Read more.
Challenges in interference-limited satellite detection arising from the low-earth orbit (LEO) and the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequency bands are addressed. In particular, a novel signal presence detector based on cyclostationary signal properties is proposed and analyzed for a low signal-to-noise-plus-interference ratio (SINR) regime. The performance of the proposed detector, which is applicable to various small-satellite scenarios, is evaluated on both simulated and real-world measurement data. This measurement data has been collected from the scientific satellite mission “Picosats Realizing Orbital Propagation Calibrations using Beacon Emitters” (PROPCUBE). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Article
Novel 3U Stand-Alone CubeSat Architecture for Autonomous Near Earth Asteroid Fly-By
Aerospace 2021, 8(1), 9; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace8010009 - 30 Dec 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1459
Abstract
The purpose of this work is to present a novel CubeSat architecture, aimed to explore Near Earth Asteroids. The fast growth in small satellite commercial-off-the-shelf technologies, which characterized the last decade of space industry, is exploited to design a 3U CubeSat able to [...] Read more.
The purpose of this work is to present a novel CubeSat architecture, aimed to explore Near Earth Asteroids. The fast growth in small satellite commercial-off-the-shelf technologies, which characterized the last decade of space industry, is exploited to design a 3U CubeSat able to provide a basic scientific return sufficient to improve the target asteroid dataset. An overview of the current available technologies for each subsystem is presented, followed by a component selection driven by the mission constraints. First a typical asteroid fly-by mission is introduced together with the system and performance requirements. Then each characterizing subsystem is critically analyzed, and the proposed configuration is presented, showing the mission feasibility within only 3.9 kg of wet mass and 385 m/s of total ΔV. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Article
Trajectory Design of Perseus: A CubeSat Mission Concept to Phobos
Aerospace 2020, 7(12), 179; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace7120179 - 15 Dec 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1944
Abstract
The Martian satellites Phobos and Deimos hold many unanswered questions that may provide clues to the origin of Mars. These moons are low Δv stopover sites to Mars. Some human missions to Mars typically identify Phobos and Deimos as staging bases for [...] Read more.
The Martian satellites Phobos and Deimos hold many unanswered questions that may provide clues to the origin of Mars. These moons are low Δv stopover sites to Mars. Some human missions to Mars typically identify Phobos and Deimos as staging bases for Mars surface exploration. Astronauts could base initial operations there in lieu of repeated voyages to and from the planet surface, to refuel transiting spacecraft, to teleoperate robotics and other critical machinery, and to develop habitable infrastructure ahead of human landings. Despite their strategic and scientific significance, there has been no successful dedicated mission to either moon. For this reason, we propose Perseus, a geological imaging CubeSat mission to Phobos. Perseus, a 27U, 54kg CubeSat will return thermal and visible images at resolutions better than currently available over most of Phobos’ surface. This includes visible images at 5m/pixel and thermal images at 25m/pixel of Phobos’ surface. The Perseus mission is nominally intended to be a co-orbital mission, where the spacecraft will encounter Phobos on its Martian orbit. However, a hyperbolic rendezvous mission concept, to image Phobos on a hyperbolic flyby, is also considered to reduce the risks associated with orbit capture and to reduce mission costs. This paper presents the preliminary feasibility, science objectives, and technological development challenges of achieving these science goals. We then formulate two rendezvous concepts as a series of three nonlinear optimization problems that span the design tree of mission concepts. The tree’s root node is the heliocentric cruise problem, which identifies the near-optimal launch and arrival windows for the Perseus spacecraft. The leaf nodes of the design tree are the two rendezvous concepts that identify near-optimal co-orbital and hyperbolic trajectories for Phobos’ reconnaissance. The design problems are solved using evolutionary algorithms, and the performance of the selected mission concepts is then examined. The results indicate that a co-orbital encounter allows about one encounter per day with about 6 min per encounter. The hyperbolic encounter, on the other hand, allows a single encounter where the spacecraft will spend about 2 min in the imaging region with respect to Phobos. The spacecraft will obtain higher resolution images of Phobos on this feasible region than have ever been seen for most of the surface. These detailed images will help identify candidate landing sites and provide critical data to derisk future surface missions to Phobos. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Article
Automated Design of CubeSats using Evolutionary Algorithm for Trade Space Selection
Aerospace 2020, 7(10), 142; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace7100142 - 28 Sep 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1427
Abstract
The miniaturization of electronics, sensors, and actuators has enabled the growing use of nanosatellites for earth observation, astrophysics, and even interplanetary missions. This rise of nanosatellites has led to the development of an inventory of modular, interchangeable commercially-off-the-shelf (COTS) components by a multitude [...] Read more.
The miniaturization of electronics, sensors, and actuators has enabled the growing use of nanosatellites for earth observation, astrophysics, and even interplanetary missions. This rise of nanosatellites has led to the development of an inventory of modular, interchangeable commercially-off-the-shelf (COTS) components by a multitude of commercial vendors. As a result, the capability of combining subsystems in a compact platform has considerably advanced in the last decade. However, to ascertain these spacecraft’s maximum capabilities in terms of mass, volume, and power, there is an important need to optimize their design. Current spacecraft design methods need engineering experience and judgements made by of a team of experts, which can be labor intensive and might lead to a sub-optimal design. In this work we present a compelling alternative approach using machine learning to identify near-optimal solutions to extend the capabilities of a design team. The approach enables automated design of a spacecraft that requires developing a virtual warehouse of components and specifying quantitative goals to produce a candidate design. The near-optimal solutions found through this approach would be a credible starting point for the design team that will need further study to determine their implementation feasibility. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Article
Design and Structural Analysis of a Control Moment Gyroscope (CMG) Actuator for CubeSats
Aerospace 2020, 7(5), 55; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace7050055 - 11 May 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 2492
Abstract
Following a global trend towards miniaturization, the population of nano- and micro-satellite continues to increase. CubeSats are standardized small size satellites based on 10 × 10 × 10 cm cube modules (1U) and are becoming sophisticated platforms despite their very small size. This [...] Read more.
Following a global trend towards miniaturization, the population of nano- and micro-satellite continues to increase. CubeSats are standardized small size satellites based on 10 × 10 × 10 cm cube modules (1U) and are becoming sophisticated platforms despite their very small size. This paper details the design and the structural analysis of a Control Moment Gyroscope (CMG) actuator for agile CubeSats with a physical size up to 12U, which require high torque actuators. CMGs have inherited torque amplification capabilities and the recent advances in motor miniaturization make them ideal candidates for small satellite missions with slew rate requirements. The system’s requirements are derived based on conceptual agility requirements for an agile (highly maneuverable) CubeSat which needs to achieve a 90° maneuver in 90 s. With specific cost, mass and volume requirements, the proposed CMG design is based on some of the smallest available off-the-shelf electric motors and uses a light aluminum casing design. The proposed design uses stepper motors for the gimbal mechanism as a low cost, compact and low power solution, contributing to an overall low mass of the full CMG cluster. Static and dynamic analyses were performed to assess the mechanical integrity of the system for launch loads. Apart from a necessary custom control electronic board, the complete mechanical assembly has been designed including electrical hardware. Analyses demonstrate that the overall stress levels acting on the system are manageable by the CMG design. Bolted joints are critical and should be studied independently as the chosen model created singularities around these areas. Each individual CMG of the designed pyramidal cluster is shown to weigh about 35 g. Using the proposed CMG design with a customized avionics board, the complete CMG system is shown to weigh 250 g and occupies slightly more than ½U volume for a CubeSat, indicating the feasibility of CMGs for agile CubeSats. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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Systematic Review
Water Recognition on the Moon by Using THz Heterodyne-Spectrometer for Identifying the Appropriate Locations to Extract Water for Providing Oxygen for Breathing and Fuel for Spaceships’ Propulsion on the Moon with CubeSat
Aerospace 2021, 8(7), 186; https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace8070186 - 12 Jul 2021
Viewed by 983
Abstract
Asteroid mining offers vital sources for improving human lives and provides opportunities for interplanetary missions and space travel. There are many professional commercial space companies that are only investing billions of dollars on asteroids mining, but prior to that, one condition for asteroid [...] Read more.
Asteroid mining offers vital sources for improving human lives and provides opportunities for interplanetary missions and space travel. There are many professional commercial space companies that are only investing billions of dollars on asteroids mining, but prior to that, one condition for asteroid mining could be planetary stations to refuel the pioneers’ spacecraft or human colonies on alien planets; hence, one of the vital sources for these purposes is water. Water can be harvested to split oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for refueling spaceships’ propulsions, and Earth-to-space water payload transporting is extremely expensive; therefore, discovering extraterrestrial water in outer space is economically beneficial. This paper presents a Lunar CubeSat Injector to deliver four 3U CubeSats into Low Lunar Orbit to make a constellation to identify locations of water sources on the Moon by using a THz heterodyne-spectrometer. In sum, this project can help scientists to recognize more water resources for those who will colonize the Moon and for those planning to go beyond it. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Small Satellite Technologies and Mission Concepts)
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