Spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) operate in an environment that produces temperature extremes from as low as -60°C to as high as 60°C. At these extremes, critical spacecraft components such as batteries and avionics boards cease to function. The job of the thermal team is to predict how ELFIN’s components will thermally respond to the flight environment and to develop methods for preventing the spacecraft from exceeding temperature restrictions.
Some of the engineering problems that the thermal team tackles include:
- Accurate thermal modeling and simulation is vital in developing thermal control strategies. The team uses a high-fidelity thermal simulation software called Thermal Desktop that inputs orbit parameters and spacecraft properties and outputs temperature profiles of each component in the spacecraft.
- Using the knowledge gained from our thermal simulator, the team can make sandbox-style design changes to the thermal properties of the spacecraft to see their effect on the resulting temperature distribution. This is equivalent to finding out how adding thermally protective covers or structures change the thermal characteristics of the spacecraft without actually building prototypes. This dynamic functionality of the thermal simulator is crucial in streamlining the decision making process.
- Validating the simulator results with actual satellite temperature profiles measured in nanosatellites that have flown in the past.
- Thermal-vacuum testing of spacecraft components, also to validate simulation results and thermal control strategies.