CONCORD, Mass - Building a satellite smaller than a football, packed with delicate electronics and tough enough to survive a rocket ride into orbit helped engineering students at the University of California, Irvine learn that a lot of education can fit in a really small package.
UCI’s cube satellite goes into orbit this December after five years of re-design, re-manufacture, and transitions on the UCISAT satellite project team. The team used SolidWorks® CAD software to design the cube satellite’s mechanical structure. SolidWorks Simulation software enabled the team to experiment with different designs that reduced weight and eliminated interference inside the satellite, and with materials that could withstand the stresses from large g-forces. Once deployed, the 10 centimeter (four inch) square satellite will maintain its orbit with the help of on-board magnets. The magnets stabilize the satellite while its cell-phone-sized camera captures images of the Earth and transmits back to the ground station on the UCI campus. Designing the satellite was an exercise in fitting photographic and communication electronics into the small structure so they wouldn’t interfere with each other. The student designers also had to stay under a weight limit of 1.3 kilograms (2.5 pounds), which made the cube satellite just the kind of challenge they envisioned when they started the project in 2005.
“The goal was to test our capabilities – to find out how we could make a functioning satellite with student labor and limited funding,” said fourth-year student Allen Giragosian, leader of UCISAT’s mechanical structures team. “We used SolidWorks to design the external structure and to model PCB boards and the camera to check for interferences. Design analysis showed us that some of the PCB components would have interfered with each other and that the battery was too thick – it hit one of the circuit boards. SolidWorks helped us correct those problems so they didn’t make it into the final version.”
Unlike similar projects at other universities, the UCISAT team built its cube satellite from the ground up instead of using a kit. UCISAT team members Anahita Sidhwa and Timothy Van Name recently brought a prototype of UCI’s cube satellite to the SolidWorks World user group event in Anaheim, where SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray held it up as an example of innovation.
“UCI’s cube satellite packs a lot of innovation and creativity into a very small package,” said Marie Planchard, director of worldwide education markets. “The students built the satellite as an intellectual exercise, but the knowledge and skills they gained by solving problems like staying under weight and eliminating interference will help them in the professional world as well. Besides that, how many cooler things can you have on your resume than ‘I built a satellite that’s orbiting above us right now?’ ”
The university relies on SolidWorks authorize reseller GoEngineer for ongoing service and support.
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