2012.A.2.5 Operational Considerations for CubeSats Beyond Low Earth Orbit


E. Glenn Lightsey (1)

  1. The University of Texas at Austin


A.2 – Technology – Communications, Planning, Operations, and Computing Issues for Interplanetary CubeSat Missions


CubeSat radiation control communication


The CubeSat standard has created a wide range of new opportunities for access to space. Leverage of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) technology has made a number of lower cost missions possible that would have been cost prohibitive a decade ago. An important new class of potential missions for CubeSats is possible outside of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). While the potential is great, such Deep Space CubeSat missions must account for the different environmental and operational factors in higher altitude Earth orbits and interplanetary space. This presentation explores three spacecraft design issues that must be addressed with regard to operation in deep space. These topics are: radiation, guidance and control, and communications.

The radiation environment is significantly more severe in deep space. This consideration affects the survivability of COTS electronics with respect to single event effects and life expectancy. The first part of this presentation includes a comparison of the relative radiation environments of different types of orbits (LEO, high altitude Earth orbit, and interplanetary). A description is provided of how these environments affect electronics, what mitigation steps are possible, and their relative implementation costs.

Guidance and control is another design element that is impacted by operating environment. The set of sensors and actuators that will work for both attitude and position control is more limited than what is available in Earth orbiting missions. This design trade space will be examined with some comments on what is perceived to be available at the current state of the art.

The final consideration in this presentation is communications. CubeSats present unique design challenges due to their smaller size and limited available power. Communications, both in the ability to establish a two way link and in the amount of data that can be transmitted, is an issue for deep space missions. A basic analysis will be conducted as well as a presentation of some operational solutions.


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