The design of a fragmentation experiment for a CubeSat during atmospheric re-entry

Graham, Julie and Creed, Lewis and Jenkins, Ciaran and Wilson, Andrew Ross and Vasile, Massimiliano (2021) The design of a fragmentation experiment for a CubeSat during atmospheric re-entry. In: 72nd International Astronautical Congress, 2021-10-25 - 2021-10-29, Dubai World Trade Centre.

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Space debris mitigation has become essential for the continued use of space. The removal of satellites from Low Earth Orbit by uncontrolled atmospheric re entry is a recommended space debris mitigation practice. However, to ensure this is safe, Design for Demise processes are required to predict the risk of a satellite surviving re-entry using re-entry analysis tools. These tools tend to under-predict the risk of satellite re-entry due to limited success recording flight data on early re-entry missions. The most prevalent uncertainty in re-entry analysis tools that is yet to be measured is satellite fragmentation. As such, STRATHcube, a student-led CubeSat project for Space Situational Awareness developed at the University of Strathclyde, aims with its secondary payload to provide flight data investigating the conditions under which solar panel fragmentation occurs. This experimental payload aims to utilise the flexibility a CubeSat platform provides, developing and testing an initial framework for on board satellite monitoring during atmospheric re-entry. In this paper the initial design and development of this experiment is addressed. A discussion of the challenges encountered when designing a CubeSat for re-entry studies is also undertaken. These challenges include limited available mass, power, and volume inherent to a CubeSat mission, as well as satellite instability, communication blackout and high aerothermal and dynamic loads experienced during re-entry. The sensor platform developed to monitor the solar panels and record re-entry measurements for heat transfer, temperature, velocity, and attitude are also detailed. A trade-off between imaging and the use of electromechanical break switches to monitor fragmentation during re-entry is considered. With these activities, STRATHcube's atmospheric re-entry experiment aims to develop a framework for fragmentation studies, with the obtained flight data allowing for the greater validation and verification of satellite fragmentation in re-entry analysis tools.