P16102: RIT-SPEX Structure

Subsystem Design

Table of Contents

Team Vision for Subsystem-Level Design Phase

Initial Plan:

  1. Review SDR Action Items, Update Requirements, and Identify Subsystem Resources
    1. Begin Subsystem Design Layout
      1. Identify All Critical to Performance Interfaces
      2. Analyze Possible Alternative Designs
    2. Begin to Develop a CAD Package with Guides
      1. Follow Labeling Scheme from the Nomenclature Page
    3. Relate All Subsystem Component Specs to Parent Requirements.
  2. Proof of Concept
    1. Analysis and Simulation
      1. Deployment - Simulation
      2. Vibration - Analysis and Simulation
      3. Inertial Concept - Analysis
      4. Thermal Environment - Simulation
    2. Possibly Create a Full Launch Cycle Simulation - Thermal, and Mechanical Stress Simulation
Project Plan

Project Plan

Feasibility: Prototyping, Analysis, Simulation

To build P16102 successfully, three major subsystems have been identified, all of them relating back to primary functions of the final deliverable. With this functional decomposition, the elements with the red border were developed by the morphological chart and prototyped out.
Subsystem Functional Decomposition (October 18th)

Subsystem Functional Decomposition (October 18th)

From this breakdown, a refined functional decomposition was created.

Subsystem Decomposition and Element Integration (October 18th)

Subsystem Decomposition and Element Integration (October 18th)

Functional Decomposition and Integration Live document link

Archetype : Hinged

Archetype : Exploded

For our final concept, the exploded structure was chosen. This structure takes advantage of the material required for the solar panels, and uses it as a structural member. Reducing the required mass of the base structure. This method is novel, and allows us to use our mass budget more efficiently.

Deployment Mechanism

We have defined the deployment mechanism to encompass everything that takes the CubeSat from its undeployed state to its deployed state. It does not include the solar arrays themselves or the frame that supports them as those fall under the category of deployable structure. Deployment mechanism includes, rather, things such as springs, hinges, restraints, shape memory and hot knives.

Hot Knife

After preliminary testing, the decision was made to use the hot knife method as our deployment mechanism. Hot knives take advantage of the fact that high resistance wires generate heat when a current is passed through them. In a hot knife, a high resistance metal such as NiChrome is heated in this way and used to melt through objects. Hot knives are often used in CubeSats where a line holds a deployable in place and the hot knife cuts the line, allowing deployment. This method can reliably release a deployable without requiring undue mass, power, cost or mechanical complexity that would have to be delt with in a system using motors, servos or similar mechanical parts.

Our current hot knife design requires the following equipment:

To get an idea of the effects of fishing line type and NiChrome configuration on power consumption for our hot knife, bench tests were conducted, using a hot knife in a variety of these scenarios. The NiCrome wire would be placed in contact with the fishing line and different currents were passed through the wire. For each fishing line - NiChrome setup, the minimum current required to break the fishing line was determined. To simulate the presence of springs in the final setup, light tension was applied to the fishing line by hanging a clip from the end of the line.
Hot knife with NiChrome resting on fishing line (10/14/15)

Hot knife with NiChrome resting on fishing line (10/14/15)

Hot knife with NiChrome coiled once around fishing line(10/14/15)

Hot knife with NiChrome coiled once around fishing line(10/14/15)

Hot knife with NiChrome coiled five times around fishing line(10/14/15)

Hot knife with NiChrome coiled five times around fishing line(10/14/15)

Hot knife testing in action
Electrical data from hot knife tests in different configurations(10/14/15)

Electrical data from hot knife tests in different configurations(10/14/15)

Our testing showed that required current can vary between fishing line types and will decrease as the number of coils increases. We also showed that even in a scenario where an unrealistically long NiChrome wire is used, the total energy and power required are manageable for what we expect our battery to be able to supply. Testing also showed that higher currents result in less total energy being required to break the fishing line.

Hot knife improvement with added coils(10/15/15)

Hot knife improvement with added coils(10/15/15)

The effect shown in the above graph makes engineering sense in that we would expect the subsequent greater contact area between the NiChrome and the fishing line to result in a greater concentration of thermal energy, pumping more heat into the same portion of the line faster and not giving the line a chance to dissipate heat down its length.
System Demo
With the knowledge gained from the above hot knife testing, we were able to construct functioning prototypes of the entire hot knife deployment mechanism. These prototypes include not only the hot knife but a boiler plate model of the CubeSat and springs to force the deployable open.

Hot knife deployable demo 1

Hot knife deployable demo 2

Torsional Spring

Energy for deployment will be stored in a torsional spring. The spring will circle the axis of the hinge and produce a force on the face of the deployment structure as well as the mounting structure of the frame. Other deployment mechanisms that were considered included:
Mathematical Model
The torque supplied by the torsional spring can be described as a function of its geometry, material, and deflection based on the following analysis:

To calculate the torsional stiffness of the spring, consider the spring in its unwound state, as a beam in pure bending.


This effective radius of curvature can be translated to a rotational displacement in the spring by:


Resulting in the following equation for applied moment:


If we assume that we want to maintain a holding force equal to half of the deployment force, it can be shown that in our application the spring will be displaced by 180 degrees before deployment, and 90 degrees post deployment. Knowing this, we can calculate the moment produced by the spring, the maximum spring stress, and the mass of the spring based on the following equations.




Shape Memory

After preliminary testing, the decision was made not to use shape memory as our deployment method. Shape memory is a special type of metal that can "remember" a shape that it is bent into while it is hot. If the metal is heated from a cool state to a hot one, it will revert to its "remembered" state and, while how, can be given a new shape to "remember". Shape memory controlled deployable solar arrays on CubeSats have been attempted before, though not commonly. Shape memory offers the advantages of low mass, low cost, low power consumption and mechanical simplicity.

Shape memory alloy in action

A Nitinol (Nickel-Titanium) alloy wire was used for the below demonstration. The wire nominally possesses the following properties:
In order to be feasible for our use, the shape memory alloy must not deploy at a temperature below those which will be experienced in launch qualification tests (60 C at a minimum, 70C+ preferred). The wire was exposed to increasing temperatures to determine at what temperature the effect activates.
Bake Test Setup(10/16/15)

Bake Test Setup(10/16/15)

At 170F (~77C), which is the lowest bake temperature available to us, there was some slight movement of the shape memory to its original state. This is cause for concern as any movement seen during the qualification bake test can be seen as a threat to the P-POD and the other CubeSats inside of it and would likely result in a failed test. This result makes the use of shape memory much less appealing and lead to our decision to use the hot knife method instead.
System Demo

To further our understanding of what needs to go into a CubeSat design deployed by shape memory allow, a simple prototype was constructed out of cardboard and cheap Nitinol.

Shape memory deployment prototype (10/19/15)

Shape memory deployment prototype (10/19/15)

Shape memory deployable demo

Due to the small diameter of the shape memory used, the wire was not able to fully deploy the mock solar array. The slow speed of deployment seen in this video would be acceptable in the final product as long as full deployment is obtained in a reasonable amount of time. This model serves as a template for us to work off of on any future shape memory controlled deployment models.


Structure refers to the CubeSat component that houses internals such as batteries, PCB experiments, antennas, etc. These internals are attached solely to the structure, while the solar cells are attached to the separate deployable structure.

Metal Frames

CubeSats are often are made of hard anodized aluminum. The anodized aluminum offers high strength while also reducing the weight. In addition anodized aluminum offers good electromagnetic shielding and is affordable and available off the shelf. [1]

These metal frames can be made with direct manufacturing through milling and shaping, or folded from sheet metal, as demonstrated with the demo, with an increase of desired properties. Additionally, the usage of laser cutting or waterjetting can allow for complex shapes and we could expect (when removing a 9cmx9cm square from a side of 10cmx10cm sheet metal) a mass reduction of 60-80% for the entire system.

3D Printing

With 3D printing becoming an increasingly inexpensive and lightweight design alternative for light duty applications; an investigation was conducted for the possibility of 3D printing a CubeSat. Within the last 2-3 years 3D printed plastic CubeSat designs have become more common due to their high weight reduction. In addition 3D printing a CubeSat would mitigate material waste and machining/fabrication time.

A study was conducted at CalPoly titled “FEASIBILITY STUDY INTO THE USE OF 3D PRINTED MATERIALS IN CUBESAT FLIGHT MISSIONS” by Daniel Fluit. In this study different 3D printable plastics underwent CubeSat qualification tests including vibration and thermal bakeout. In addition a cost analysis was done on these plastics versus machined metal. As a result a fraction of tested plastics passed CubeSat qualification tests and were deemed a viable replacement option for traditional metal CubeSats.

In the study the following plastics were analyzed: In the study the following plastics were analyzed:

More material properties[2]

3D feasibility plastic material specs(10/18/2015)

3D feasibility plastic material specs(10/18/2015)

Thermal Bakeout Study:
Weight Reduction
An investigation into how much weight can be saved using 3D printing was conducted. Assuming a similar structure for all materials compared a weight reduction analysis was done using SolidWorks. In addition an assumption was made that using a 3D printed plastic would require twice the mass to ensure similar structural rigidity. Pumpkin offers a skeleton structure of 5052-H32 in there standard CubeSat kit, and this was chosen as the datum for the comparisons. Also other aluminum alloys are used and these offer different strength performance characteristics.[3] [4] [5]:
Weight Reduction Comparison (10/18/2015)

Weight Reduction Comparison (10/18/2015)

  1. Even with twice the volume, plastics at the minimum were 20% lighter than the aluminum structure from the standard Pumpkin kit.
  2. The Windform XT is the most expensive and yet has the best mass reduction.
  3. Using different aluminum alloys did not significantly reduce mass.
Weight Computation (10/18/2015)

Weight Computation (10/18/2015)

D. Cormier - Eark W. Brinkman Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Director of Multifunction 3D Printing.
Metal & 3D printed material (10/18/2015)

Metal & 3D printed material (10/18/2015)

3D printing is a viable option for constructing the CubeSat. It has its advantages and disadvantages. It will be cheaper and produce parts faster but it could give up reliability in LEO. The model does not solely need to be 3D printed plastics but can have components that are plastics and others that are metal. Calpoly is further investigating this using a combined metal and 3D printed structure. Internal configuration can be easily adaptable to any mounting interface for internal components.

Deployable Structure

The deployable structure subsystem contains all of the parts that are to be moved during solar cell deployment. This includes the solar cells, their support structure, and any frame members that will move during deployment. This system does not include the springs, hinges, or hot knife mechanisms used to perform the deployment.

Solar Cell Structure

A typical solar cell comes mounted on a dedicated PCB. The PCB provides support for the panels and aids in heat distribution. Usually, two solar cells are mounted on each panel. For most CubeSat providers, the mass of the panel and solar cells averages roughly 55g per CubeSat face with magnetorquers and less than 30g per face without magnetorquers. Integrated magnetorquers use a solenoid to produce a magnetic field which is used by the attitude control system to apply a torque on the spacecraft. Each CubeSat typically has three magnetorquers oriented orthogonally to allow for control in all three axes of rotation. Depending on the panels chosen we will likely have three panels with magnetorquers, and three without.

Remaining Components

Aside from the solar cell PCB's, the deployable structure will have:


The overall mass of each deployable face will likely be 55 to 110g depending on the how the frame slides are integrated into the overall structure.
CubeSat panel packages are available from a variety of manufacturers. They typically cost roughly $2,000 per face. Most manufacturers also offer the option to purchase solar panels, power conditioning, and batteries as an inclusive system.


How do we integrate this to our customer requirements.

Preliminary Mass Budget

Preliminary Mass Budget for Three Major Subsystems (October 18th)

Preliminary Mass Budget for Three Major Subsystems (October 18th)

Variations were seen with various solar cells available through COTS suppliers such as CubeSat Shop's Solar Panels. For example, the ISIS CubeSat solar panels weigh only 50 grams per unit and lack magnetorquers, where the 63 gram ClydeSpace solar panels were would significantly reduce mass allowances. However, it shows that in both cases, well over half the mass allowance is used only for solar panels and nothing else. Thus, any marginal mass gain over time is important and helpful.


During this phase, we worked with 103 to learn more about what vibration spectrum they will be using for their tests. From this, we learned more about the vibration requirements we would need to run, how we could simulate launch better. For this test, each frequency will be increased every 30 seconds, moving from 5, 10, 20, 40, 80 and 100 hertz with the acceleration and displacement described below.
P16103 Power Spectrum

P16103 Power Spectrum


From talking to 104, they are predicting to use a 3U system with a single deployable in double wing configuration, the same as what we are developing, but scaled to 3U from our 1U. It is conceivable that with this payload and deployable system, it could be scaled to 3U and provide the 10-15 watts they would require for their experiment.

Additionally, P16104 is planning on keeping the CubeSat in a sun-facing mode which indicates the demand for a articulating system is not there for this payload, which strengthens our assumptions and choice for non-articulating system with payloads like these.

Bill of Materials (BOM)

 Preliminary B.O.M. 10/18/15

Preliminary B.O.M. 10/18/15

Based on the research we have conducted to this point, we have identified items that may need to be purchased for this project. Due to the preliminary nature of this bill of materials, some of the items listed are from alternative design concepts and would not be purchased at the same time and each subsystem will likely require more parts than have been listed. This version will serve as a framework for bills of material going forward.

Risk Assessment

Risk Outlines

Risk Outlines

The risk assessment was updated due to information revealed through the 3D printing feasibility study. The PPOD has the potential to strip away material from the CubeSat and this removed material is a risk that has the potential to cause mission failure.

Plans for next phase

Phase IV Deliverables

MSD I Deliverable Planning

In the phase 2 design review, we planned our expected progress for our key deliverables. In our documentation, bill of materials, vibration test plan, CAD modeling, and risk assessments we are on schedule. In our MSD planning section, we are a bit ahead of schedule, as we have made contact with the professor from the 3D printing lab, and we have done some preliminary searches for sources of hinges and springs for our application.


  1. http://www.cubesatkit.com/content/structure.html, Web, Pumpkin, 2015
  2. http://www.cubesatkit.com/content/structure.html, Web, Pumpkin, 2015
  3. http://asm.matweb.com/search/SpecificMaterial.asp?bassnum=MA5052H32, Web, ASM, 2015
  4. http://asm.matweb.com/search/SpecificMaterial.asp?bassnum=MA6061t6, Web, ASM, 2015
  5. http://asm.matweb.com/search/SpecificMaterial.asp?bassnum=MA7050T745, Web, ASM, 2015

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