5 Key Issues Affecting Your CubeSat Connectors
CubeSats started the New Space revolution. Space is now accessible, not just to highly-funded government agencies, but to commercial and academic projects.
These New Space entrepreneurs may not have the same deep experience that a long-standing government agency like NASA can bring to bear. So here’s some advice on what might seem to be an incidental part of your CubeSat.
Why Are Connectors for CubeSats Important?
Although unmanned space projects don’t involve direct risk to human life, there is a lot of time and money invested in these projects. Even a small nanosatellite has many costs relating to build, test, transport into space and deployment – and invested time.
These costs are particularly significant to academic teams – the students involved may have just one shot at getting everything right. Imagine the heartbreak of spending a whole year preparing for your launch, only to meet failure due to choosing an unsuitable connector!
5 key issues affecting space-bound connectors
1. Resilience to Mechanical Stress
To make sure your CubeSat works in orbit, first it must survive launch. Every aspect of the satellite is going to be subject to heavy vibration and high levels of acceleration in this phase of the vehicle life. Your connectors must stay together properly mated and not get damaged. And once the shaking subsides and it’s floating in orbit, it must be in perfect working order to start its operations.
2. Extreme Temperature Variations
Each orbital rotation brings a harsh cycle of direct thermal radiation from sunlight, followed by the cold shadow of the Earth. Even connectors buried inside the CubeSat stack will feel some effects from this temperature cycling. They need to be ready to resist both the extremes of the temperature, and the combined effects of continued cycling.
3. Space Constrains
Obviously we’re not talking about actual Space here – in the immortal words of Douglas Adams “Space is big. Really big.” However, the inside of your CubeSat is small – and you’ve got a lot of systems you want to fit in there.
Even with the biggest 12U sizes (that’s 12 lots of 10x10x10cm units, giving you 20x20x30cm), that’s not much room for payload experiments, power system, propulsion/flight controls and communications.
This means you want your connectors to be as small as possible – both in PCB space (also known as real estate) and space above and between the boards. However, make sure you don’t sacrifice other specifications in reducing the size of the connector.
4. Weight Constraints
Pushing weight into orbit is expensive. The more weight you have to push, the more it’ll cost you. It’s not a problem up there – it’s the getting there where your weight counts. Every gram saved might give you more fuel, more range, or extra payload options.
Small connectors are likely to be light as well, but keep an eye on the materials used – do you really need certain parts to be metal, when plastic will weigh less?
Vacuum brings out the worst in plastics. They can release gases and molecular particle debris. These molecules could contaminate other devices and optical systems within the CubeSat stack.
NASA and ESA both maintain lists of Outgassing data for a variety of materials – but it’s simpler to just ask the connector manufacturer. We can advise which of our connectors have low outgassing properties.
Connectors for CubeSats that don’t cost the Earth
Now you know some key issues that can affect your choice, you still need to understand the electrical performance your PCBs and cabling connections must fulfil. Once you’ve got all that data, you’re ready to choose your connectors.
Harwin loves space applications, and our connectors have already spent a lot of time in orbit. Our Experts are ready to guide you through our budget-friendly options. Whether you’re a student or graduate, or working in commercial space projects, we’ve got the connectors ready for you.
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