BOOM System


Taylor University's Extremely Low Earth Orbit Satellite (ELEOsat) contains a novel and innovative mechanical boom system to deploy sensors away from the spacecraft after launch. Sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate through the Nanosat Program 8 (UNP8), our boom system is a pioneer in CubeSat technologies. In order to test the segmented boom system being designed for ELEOsat, we hope to conduct a microgravity test flight. A microgravity flight will provide critical information for designing and ultimately implementing the boom system on ELEOsat. The test will consist of several boom prototypes in various test configurations and will assist in verifying our calculated expectations.

Unlike current boom designs that deploy simple antennas, the spooled carbon fiber booms allow extension and separation of instruments up to 4 meters while taking up minimal space. On this satellite, the booms will be used to separate VLF sensors by a known distance to measure the electric potential between the probes while doubling as an aerodynamic stabilizer, much like the steadying effects that feathers have on an arrow in flight. This system allows for the retraction of the booms in order to take measurements at varying distances. A high torque space certified motor with encoder controls the boom extension and a state of the art piezoelectric motor works to lock the probes in place for pre-deployment. The drive behind designing a new type of boom system from the ground up was both due to the lack of existing suitable systems, and the educational experience of designing a machine from scratch.

Test Objectives

The boom experiment has five primary objectives. These objectives are in accordance with the following goals as established by NASA:

  • NASA Objective 3.22: Spur the development of routine, low cost access to space through small payloads and satellites.
  • NASA Outcome 5.4: Implement and provide space communications and launch capabilities responsive to existing and future science and space exploration missions.
  • NASA Objective 5.1.2: Provide opportunities and support systems that recruit, retain,and develop undergraduate and graduate students in STEM – related disciplines.
  • NASA Objective 6.1.1: Provide NASA experiences that inspire student interest and achievement in STEM disciplines.
  • NASA Outcome 2.2: Understand the Sun and its interactions with Earth/solar system.
  • NASA CTD 12.2: Lightweight and Efficient Structures and Materials
  • NASA CTD 12.4: Low Temperature Mechanisms
  • NASA SKG Environment & Effects: Particulate Environment
  • NASA SKG Environment & Effect: Micrometeoroid Environment
  • NASA SKG Environment & Effect: Solar Event Prediction
  • Each of the mentioned goals are met in the boom experiment through the various objectives. The five objectives involve risk reduction for CubeSat missions, concept affirmation, dynamic characterization of the system, and outreach to others.

    The primary objective is risk reduction for other CubeSat missions, which affects Taylor University’s participation in UNP8 and ELaNA. By studying the boom system in a similar environment, it can be better characterized and optimally designed for best performance in future missions. Any risk reduction for ELEOsat that can be obtained through boom is extremely beneficial to our team and provides us greater opportunities to pursue further goals for both the boom systems and for other systems onboard ELEOsat.

    The second objective, which is significantly linked to the first, is concept affirmation of the boom system. Basically, we are answering the question, “Does it work as expected?” The data and information gathered from the microgravity flight will help to further characterize the boom system and how it interacts with the spacecraft itself and other systems onboard. Expectations for the boom system have been established through simulations and various assumptions. These expectations will be compared with the actual results of the microgravity test to optimize the boom system for future use on CubeSat missions.

    In order to test the response of the unfurling boom system, the system itself must be initiated or released. The third objective is to test this release mechanism in microgravity conditions. This aspect is an integral part of the boom system and we must verify that it operates as expected and is controllable (i.e. only releases when instructed to do so, no accidental deployments).

    The servo for the release mechanism will also serve to rotate the booms. This is the fourth objective, to test the rotation of the booms in a microgravity environment. This test will provide much anticipated confirmation of the ability of the servo to provide several functions for the craft.

    As part of this proposal and the Taylor University ELEOsat project, an outreach program is being established to educate other students, children and the general public, on nanosatellites. This is our fifth objective, as we hope to expose others to the hard work, joys, and thrills involved in the pursuit of scientific knowledge and discovery.

    These five objectives, while integrally tied to one another, hold intrinsic values that all benefit scientific education and exploration.

    Test Description

    The BOOM experiment will be in support of two different nanosatellite deployable boom designs.

    Our first design was designed to fly on TSAT, a Taylor University satellite scheduled to launch in 2014 through the ELaNa program. The design has gone through several iterations of testing and redesign to optimize the performance of the boom deployment system. The current design consists of an open case with a flat boom wrapped around a spool. A space certified Faulhaber 0816 motor is used to both deploy and rotate the booms. This system is quite reliable and results in minimal oscillation, however, it takes up a significant amount of space within the craft. While the craft can be designed to accommodate the space required for this design, the space constraint limits creativity and flexibility for the rest of the satellite.

    The image below shows the SolidWorks model of the boom design as created for TSAT. A prototype version was also created and tested on a high altitude balloon launch. The results for the boom came back positive even though the prototype itself was never recovered.

    The image below shows the adaptation of TSAT’s boom deployment system for ELEOsat. The basic design is the same, but a few modifications have been made to fit within the new and updated requirements.

    Our second design was conceived with the thought of mitigating the volume required by the boom deployment system. This design consists of a series of segmented carbon fiber rods connected with torsion springs and a tensioning cable inside the hollow rods. The individual segments can be wrapped around the exterior of the craft for stowage during the launch phase of the satellite. During deployment, the segments will be released and the torsion springs and tensioning cables will unfurl and deploy the booms. One of the biggest design requirements is to limit the amount of oscillation occurring during the deployment phase. For this reason, significant testing will be done in order to develop the best possible boom deployment system. However, testing in earth’s environment will not provide sufficiently accurate data to characterize the dynamics of the deploying booms. The Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program provides us a rare and extremely beneficial opportunity to fully characterize this system in reduced gravity, helping us to prepare for the ultimate goal of utilizing the system to collect scientific data aboard ELEOsat.

    The image below shows a close-up of the spring mechanism between rod segments.

    A similar deployable boom design, developed by H.M.Y.C. Mallikarachchi, uses a single carbon fiber rod with slits cut into the rod at the bends. These slits allow the rod to deform and bend around an object, like a nanosatellite, while retaining a spring-like characteristic to return to the original shape and orientation when allowed. This design has been thoroughly analyzed and tested. It is a convenient, but still expensive, way to reach our goal. The booms for this experiment are hollow to allow passage of wires for sensors at the end of the booms. The deformation in Dr. Mallikarachchi’s design would pinch our wires, potentially causing significant harm and an inability to reach the desired extension length. Our modified design is believed to be an improvement over Mallikarachchi’s design in that it allows wires to run throughout the system and deploy to an increased length.

    The Cage

    The support structure of our experiment is a 58’’x 58’’x 24’’ T-slotted aluminum frame, with 2’’x2’’ sized supports. To increase the safety factor of this setup, we will secure foam padding along the rails to nullify the sharp corners and sides. In order to mount our craft to this cage, additional supports will run top to bottom from the middle of the cage on both sides. A bar will then connect these supports. This will allow us to mount three crafts, equidistant from each other, with 360 degrees of rotation available . The total mass of the cage with the crafts mounted inside will be below the weight requirement of 200 pounds.

    In order to better interpret our data, we will be mounting cameras at select positions, including the three primary axes and the end of each boom, on the aluminum cage in order to capture the motion of the boom system before, during, and after deployment. These cameras will provide us with an accurate visual representation of the under-damped boom system and will have slow motion capabilities to further the understanding of the review. During the under- dampened deployment of the boom system, the booms will undergo vertical and horizontal displacement. In order to better track and measure this displacement, the models will be marked with reference lines which will be analyzed in conjunction with the video footage from the cameras to display a quantifiable displacement view during each trial. This will help to dynamically characterize the system.

    Testing Characteristics

    In order to obtain more data during each trial, our plan is to deploy three models simultaneously. To achieve this goal, while still meeting the dimensional requirements, we will need to use half scale versions of each model. Scaling down our model will also enable us to more readily simulate longer boom lengths, which will be a beneficial step towards achieving future CubeSat objectives.

    Each model that is utilized will have a unique deployment, which broadens the quality and quantity of our data. The characteristics of each model are as follows:

  • Model #1: This model will utilize the designs of TSAT, mentioned above. Using a rotary motor, this model will deploy its booms by unraveling itself from a spool. In choosing this method, we can solidify and enhance previous findings pertaining to this deployment method. If the findings yield sufficient results, implementation of this design can happen on future flight projects.
  • Model #2: The second model will utilize the carbon fiber rod deployment method, also mentioned above. Because this is the method chosen for ELEOsat, two versions of this test will be conducted, in order to fully grasp the dynamics happening during deployment. This model shall omit one of the two booms, thereby allowing for better analysis from a singular boom deployment. This method will allow us to better analyze reactionary forces and happenings that would otherwise be masked by opposing forces from a second boom.
  • Model #3: The final model will utilize a similar method as the second model, but will deploy two booms simultaneously instead of just one. The two booms are fixed at opposite sides of the model, and are wrapped in such a way as to ensure that the two booms will never touch each other during deployment. This method shall allow for us to view the entire boom deployment system as a whole, and show us specifically how the craft itself will handle during the deployment stage. This is crucial data to further our progress with ELEOsat.
  • The dynamic data provided by these models will give us a better understanding as to which deployment method and setup is most effective, and will give us a better understanding of what we should use in future flights of ELEOsat.

    Test Procedure

    During the ascent of each flight parabola, we will need to reset or prepare our experiment. In order to conserve time, we will have an additional set of crafts ready to mount. This additional set of crafts will be reset while its corresponding set is being set to deploy. Each team member will be assigned a specific job to perform during the upward motions, and we will practice these jobs prior to the flight week to ensure maximum efficiency.

    During each descent, the booms will be activated wirelessly via Zigbee radio. This signal will communicate with a locking mechanism, allowing the booms to deploy.

    Throughout the deployment stage, the flight personnel will be taking notes and observing outstanding characteristics in the dynamic movement of the crafts. The mounted cameras will also be active during this state, which will allow for future review of the crafts. The video footage of the models will be stored using onboard SD cards.

    Data Analysis

    At the end of the flight, we will have two primary forms of data; we will have our own personal observations and notes as well as video from the mounted cameras. The personal notes will alert us to the extreme behaviors of each model, as well as provide basic backup analysis in the event of technical difficulty. The videos, however, will provide a more extensive view into the dynamic undertaking of each respective model. These videos will show the vertical translations of each boom, which can be compared to the reference marks that will be put on the cage to show us the intensity of each deployment method. Comparisons can also be made to the original calculations presented at the beginning of this section.

    An accelerometer will also be planted inside each model. This will allow us to examine inertial responses of the craft itself which will help in the future analysis when the craft will be loaded with instruments.

    When combined, the data analysis will help us take the next step in our boom design process. The data will help us decide which boom deployment method works best in conjunction with ELEOsat and will give us direction in pursuing either a deployment method using torsion springs, as in model #1 and #2, or an internal deployment, as in model #3.

    Team Learning

    A major aspect to the flight is the fact that the majority of the flyers will be seniors, meaning that further data analysis will be handed off to subsequent team members of ELEOsat. To make the handoff process smoother, many sophomores and juniors from Taylor University are involved in our preparations. Also, in an attempt to make the transition between classes easier, our flight team members include a sophomore and a returning senior. They will be able to provide firsthand experience both with the microgravity flight as well as with the ELEOsat project, and in turn be able to better interpret the data that is obtained. In these ways, the data presented to them will serve as a foundational aspect to future designs.

    The goal of this experiment is to paint a better picture of how our craft will operate in space or microgravity. Thus, we will utilize the data gathered from our flight time to help us predict, problem solve, and implement different design characteristics for use on future flights with ELEOsat. Using our collected data and understanding of the system, we will continue to tinker with and perfect the boom design.

    Launch Manifest

    Taylor Uniersity's mechanical boom system is a pioneer in nanosatellite boom system technology. Deploying instruments further from the space craft without the need for external cables, and with the ability to retract will vastly increase the variety of functions a CubeSat's boom historically can perform.

    The boom system will be utilized on the ELEOsat which is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral on NASA’s upcoming Space-X mission to the International Space Station in the 2014.