In the last decades the private space sector has increased its initiative independently from or in tight collaboration with the national and international space agencies. Many companies have the capabilities of designing and actually building satellites or entire modules of the International Space Station. Though the private sector is striving to make access to space and correlated operations more economically convenient, space is still far from being affordable. High costs reside in the long initial phases and in all the actions necessary to amend preliminary design errors. Space vehicles are complex machines designed in a distributed manner, hence making them prone to design errors. The current design techniques are based on concurrent design. This method has been used since the dawn of the industrial era, with complex machines comprising multiple modules being designed in a distributed way. Nevertheless, complexity comes with a price. High failure rates, suboptimal designs, increased cost and excessive use of resources are just a few of the challenges concurrent engineering has to face. The idea of the proposed project is to tackle the main problems encountered in concurrent engineering through a multidisciplinary approach implemented in an innovative software.
The proposed software contains a graphical interface which gives users the possibility to set high-level mission requirements. Typically these are the spacecraft orbit, on-board payload and operational needs for the subsystems which form the spacecraft. An initial operations schedule, based on each subsystem's operational needs, is defined. The software approaches the aforementioned challenges in a four step process. Initially, the operations schedule is optimized according to the constraints and available ground station support. This aims at allocating the resources needed (time of operation, power consumption etc.) in order for the components to work to their full capacity. Then, an optimization cycle takes place comprising three steps. The first step defines optimal subsystem components with minimal physical attributes (e.g. mass) or electrical ones (e.g. power consumption). Each subsystem component is modelled using numerical and analytical techniques to reproduce real life response with high fidelity. The second optimisation step selects the best configuration for modules in order to keep the spacecraft's barycentre balanced. Finally, a cabling optimisation is performed: all interfaces are placed neatly around the volume of the spacecraft while respecting technical constraints such as electromagnetic interference. This last part of the process is usually critical when it comes to manufacturing and integrating the subsystem components into the satellite. This operation often results in being an exhausting, long and expensive trial and error process to assess its correctness. Optimized cable routing tackles this problem and results are visualized on the screen.
The proposed software allows for fast prototyping and integration of systems since it greatly reduces the design time. One of the prospective applications of the proposed project is to make space satellite design reliable, complete and effective from the very initial phases of the project. Furthermore, for the flexibility of software architecture, other future applications can be related to challenging design problems in many more engineering disciplines