Evaluating Solar Array Positioning Designs for Small Satellites in Different Orbits

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering


Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.


Advisor: David Myszka


Access to space has consistently presented difficulties, particularly for universities and research with limited financial resources. Overcoming high costs, long development times and weight limitations were major obstacles. Over the past 20 years, a consortium of universities has successfully addressed these challenges linked to deploying experiments in orbit by employing a miniature satellite known as CubeSats. The CubeSat specification opened a new possibility to space exploration for the academic community and contributed to creating a new standard for space equipment. Advances in electronic miniaturization further fueled this development while allowing robust capability. However, the size and weight limitations of CubeSats severely reduce the available power budget and stored energy reserves, thus limiting their useful on-orbit lifespan, performance, and capabilities. This research studies the solar energy output from solar arrays on a 3U CubeSat in different configurations in Geosynchronous and Sun-synchronous orbits. A robot kinematics approach was developed using a homogeneous matrix tool to describe and evaluate both orbits and the output energy from the solar arrays. In addition, optimum angles of the solar arrays are determined in different CubeSat configurations including seven models in 0 degrees of freedom (DoF), three models in 1 DoF, and one model in 2DoF to maximize the energy output. Moreover, the commercially available orbital mechanics ‘System Tool Kit’ (STK), is used to validate the results for orbit parameters and energy generation for the rigid-mounted solar arrays. Finally, a mechanical design models of all CubeSats using SolidWorks software is created to simulate all the models in different configurations. The design models provide a check to ensure that the mass and size are suitable for standard 3U CubeSat and allows a ratio comparison between the power output of CubeSats in different configurations to the mass of the CubeSat.


CubeSat. 2. Solar panels deployment. 3. Orbit description. 4. Actuation and structure design. 5. Energy per unit mass

Rights Statement

Copyright © 2023, author.