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Thinking outside the box: Aerospace Corp.’s thin DiskSats

COLORADO SPRINGS – The Aerospace Corp., an early adopter of the cubesat standard, is proposing a new shape for small satellites, a thin plate called DiskSat that is designed to maximize volume and surface area.

A DiskSat that is one meter in diameter and 2.5-centimeters thick could accommodate enough solar cells to produce 200 watts.

“To get 200 watts of solar cells on a cubesat, even a fairly large cubesat, you need deployable arrays,” said Richard Welle, director of Aerospace Corp.’s Microsatellite Systems Department, told SpaceNews.

A DiskSat also could accommodate a large-aperture antenna.

“You can put that on a DiskSat without deployables, whereas to do that on a cubesat you have to figure out how to deploy your antenna,” Welle said.

Still, cubesats remain well suited to many applications.

“The cubesat is not going anywhere,” Welle said. “The point of DiskSat is that it complements cubesats for missions that consist primarily of electronics that need higher power.”

DiskSats also may work well for large constellations.

“Let’s say you want to put 20 satellites per plane in a low Earth orbit constellation and each satellite’s mass is about 10 kilograms,” Welle said. “Trying to do that with cubesats is challenging because it’s hard to pack 20 cubicle objects into a small launch vehicle. A stack of 20 plates is a lot easier.”

Aerospace engineers designed DiskSat with small launch vehicles in mind. The design is based on the payload volume of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket but can be modified to fit larger diameter launch vehicles like Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne. Flat square plates also could be stacked in an ESPA port, according to an Aerospace paper presented at the Small Satellite Conference earlier this month.

No DiskSats have flown to date. Aerospace engineers have built DiskSat structural mockups and are designing a demonstration mission that could be ready to fly within 18 months. They also are designing a DiskSat dispenser to “lift the satellites out one at a time and release them,” Welle said.

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