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2008 Project Abstract
Current aerospace trends encourage satellites to be smaller, faster, and cheaper. However, the physical limitations of such small satellites create unique design challenges. To define one of these challenges for future small satellite missions built by students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a team of mechanical and electrical engineering students will study the accuracy and stability of small satellite attitude control systems (ACS).
This experiment will focus on the challenge of reaching an attitude position quickly and efficiently. Many small satellites experiences oscillations as their attitude control system stabilizes in the desired orientation. This oscillation reduces the efficiency of an attitude control system and imposes a greater draw on the satellite's already limited power supply. This project's mission is to investigate such instability and characterize it with the objective of overcoming the problem on future missions.
After designing and constructing two control systems, one mechanical and one electromagnetic, the students will evaluate the pointing accuracy and short-term stability of platforms employing these systems in zero gravity. Because the platforms cannot realistically "hover" while maintaining a reasonable 3-axis test environment, this evaluation is not possible in a one-g environment. Zero-g flights through the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Program will allow investigation of the ACS platforms in a three-dimensional environment similar to space, where the systems will eventually be required to function, without relying on a costly in-situ evaluation of attitude control systems in orbit.
Further evaluation of the platforms based on small satellite requirements such as mass, volume, and power will provide a research and design foundation for future missions.