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NanoSatellite Thermal Overload Protection System
Principal Investigator: Tony Ricco

As small satellites are increasingly considered for low-cost space experiments beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), a means to control excessive onboard temperatures must be developed for orbits of high sun exposure. A 3-cube satellite covered on 4 sides by body-mounted solar panels, with radios on one end and a de-orbit mechanism on the other, offers little surface area upon which to locate thermal radiators, which would be ineffective in any case because the satellite’s passive magnetic orientation system cannot ensure that they face away from the sun.

In this project we modeled, developed, and tested a laboratory version of a means to electrically dissipate excess thermal energy from 3-cube (and larger) nanosatellites. The self-deploying “nanokite” de-orbit mechanism demonstrated on the Organism/Organic Exposure to Orbital Stresses (O/OREOS) nanosatellite was used to support a resistive electrical thin-film heater. Excess electrical energy from the solar panels, which ordinarily leads to electron-hole recombination that heats the panels and the underlying satellite, could be routed to such an outboard heater, which in this case was separated by about 20 cm from the main satellite body and faced away from the payload and bus. This thermal dissipative mechanism can add much-needed thermal control with no moving parts, a few grams of added mass, and a few cm3 of added volume.

The products of this project include a thermal model, laboratory prototype, and documented results.