Design and testing of a low-cost, open source, 3-D printed air-bearing-based attitude simulator for CubeSat satellites

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Department of Materials Science and Engineering


With the surge of interest in nano-satellites, there is a concomitant need for high quality, yet affordable sim-ulation and testing environments. It is particularly challenging to experimentally evaluate nano-satellite attitude control systems in a test environment. This article investigates the technical feasibility of fabricating a low-cost air-bearing platform with three degrees of freedom of angular motion using desktop 3-D printing technology with limited printing resolution. An open source air-bearing attitude simulator for complete 1U CubeSat is pro-posed, manufactured, and characterized. The platform is equipped with directional air nozzles that enable exter-nal torque generation in order to cancel out i) parasitic moments of inertia from the satellite’s enclosure and ii) error torque produced by imperfections. It is also capable of simulating disturbances in a space environment. The results show that the torques produced by the nozzles can reach beyond 0.001 Nm and are sufficient to re-move error torques and provide torque compensation of the orders of 0.0004 Nm. Removing the effects of grav-ity torque with the nozzles proved to be unachievable with the current design, requiring precise positioning of the CubeSat within the enclosure. Future work has been identified for a number of improvements to the design and details for the further development of the platform.

Publication Title

Journal of Small Satellites (JoSS)