Human exploration of uncharted territories never ceases, and one of the most significant frontiers is the vast expanse of space. Since the Soviet Union’s successful launch of the first artificial satellite in 1957, marking the first instance of humans placing a man-made object into Earth’s orbit, it initiated the era of the famous ‘Space Race.’ Various nations invested substantial resources and efforts to establish dominance in the field of space.
However, the cost of launching satellites is considerably high. Even without accounting for factors like research, design, and operations, the cost of a small communication satellite is no less than $10 million. As a result, there has been a quest for cost-effective alternatives. Cubesats have garnered significant attention due to their low costs and performance.
Nonetheless, these miniaturized satellites lack onboard propulsion systems, making it challenging to maintain a stable flight attitude. Thankfully, CubeSat magnetorquer PCB boards can be utilized to adjust it by interacting with Earth’s magnetic field. In this article, TechSparks will guide you through CubeSats, flight attitude issues, and the concept of magnetorquers, shedding light on the optimization role of this PCB for CubeSat flight attitudes.
The concept of CubeSats was initially proposed in 1999 by a research team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Its original purpose was to assist universities in reducing the threshold for engaging in space research missions. With technological advancements, CubeSats have expanded their applications into various domains, including Earth monitoring, space exploration, satellite communications, and more.
Visually, a CubeSat resembles a large Rubik’s Cube, employing modular design to assemble different modules based on mission requirements. Based on the units comprising these modules, CubeSats can be categorized as 1U, 2U, 3U, or even 12U. Here, ‘U’ represents a standard CubeSat unit, with dimensions of 10 x 10 x 10 centimeters, and each unit weighs less than 1.33 kilograms.
Within its compact internal structure, flight control, thermal regulation, and other satellite systems are governed by a 10-centimeter-sized computer motherboard. To achieve a smaller and lighter design, integrated circuits weigh just a few grams, momentum wheels are no larger than a thumb, and interconnecting wires between devices are less than 1 millimeter thick.
Despite their minuscule size, CubeSats are capable of executing a variety of complex tasks. They can capture observational data of the Earth’s surface every 24 hours, analyze geographic features in different regions using control systems, facilitate satellite docking and rendezvous through sensor devices, and establish comprehensive satellite networks using multiple CubeSats.
Flight Attitude Issues
Although the design and manufacturing technology of CubeSats has gradually matured, integrating numerous functionalities within a confined space inevitably leads to some potential issues. One of these issues is flight attitude, which can be influenced by several factors, such as:
- Non-uniform solar radiation resulting in thermal stress.
- Torque generated when solar panels receive light.
- The impact of the Earth’s magnetic field.
Regardless of the factor at play, they all contribute to the risk of equipment failure, potentially resulting in significant economic losses. To address this issue, CubeSats often employ a technology called Attitude Determination and Control Systems (ADCS). These systems utilize sensors, control algorithms, and actuators to monitor and adjust the satellite’s attitude.
Magnetorquer or Magnetic Torquer is a cost-effective solution used to adjust the flight attitude of CubeSats. Compared to other ADCS technologies, they offer the advantage of being lightweight and low in power consumption, aligning with the design principles of CubeSats and other small satellites.
A typical magnetorquer comprises three magnetic coils along the satellite’s X, Y, and Z axes. Its operation is based on the Lorentz force charged particles experience when moving within a magnetic field. This force induces torque in the coils, allowing the adjustment of the satellite’s attitude by controlling the magnitude of the current passing through the coils to change their relative positions or magnetic moments. For instance, if there’s a need to rotate the satellite around the Z-axis, increasing the current in the magnetorquer on the X and Y axes accomplishes this rotation.
However, it’s essential to note that magnetorquer can only control the satellite’s attitude relative to the Earth’s magnetic field and cannot affect the satellite’s rotation along the direction of the magnetic field. In other words, they can influence rotations perpendicular to the Earth’s magnetic field but not those parallel to it. Additionally, Magnetorquer requires a sufficiently strong magnetic field in the satellite’s environment to operate effectively. Hence, they are better suited for satellite projects in low Earth orbit (LEO) or orbits close to Earth.
Cubesat Magnetorquer PCB Board
In the previous sections, we’ve already discussed the flight attitude challenges of CubeSats, including:
- How to adjust the attitude?
- When is the adjustment necessary?
- What are the specific adjustment angles?
The magnetorquer PCB for CubeSats is composed of several components designed to address the issues mentioned above:
- Coils: Providing torque for directional adjustments.
- Sensors: Monitoring and generating satellite flight data.
- Wires and interfaces: Serving as the links for signals and power connections between components.
- Communication interfaces: Facilitating communication with ground stations or other satellites.
- Control algorithms: Analyzing sensor data and making correct adjustment decisions.
- Data storage: Storing sensor data, mission data, and other relevant information.
The process of attitude adjustment begins with sensors, including gyroscopes, magnetometers, and accelerometers, among others. These sensors monitor and capture the current flight attitude data of the CubeSat. This data is then converted into digital signals by an analog-to-digital converter, which is integrated into the magnetorquer PCB. These digital signals are subsequently processed by a microcontroller, FPGA, or other processors. Based on the collected data, control algorithms make assessments and generate control signals. These control signals, often in the form of current or voltage signals, are then sent to the magnetorquer. By controlling the current and voltage within the torquers, the Lorenz force is generated, producing torque to adjust the satellite’s attitude. In more advanced magnetorquer PCB for CubeSats, feedback loops may be included. These feedback signals allow a comparison between the actual attitude and the desired attitude, enabling closed-loop control.
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