The design of a fragmentation experiment for a CubeSat during atmospheric re-entry

Julie Graham, Lewis Creed, Ciaran Jenkins, Andrew Ross Wilson, Massimiliano Vasile

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

192 Downloads (Pure)


Space debris mitigation has become essential for the continued use of space. The removal of satellites from Low Earth Orbit by uncontrolled atmospheric re entry is a recommended space debris mitigation practice. However, to ensure this is safe, Design for Demise processes are required to predict the risk of a satellite surviving re-entry using re-entry analysis tools. These tools tend to under-predict the risk of satellite re-entry due to limited success recording flight data on early re-entry missions. The most prevalent uncertainty in re-entry analysis tools that is yet to be measured is satellite fragmentation. As such, STRATHcube, a student-led CubeSat project for Space Situational Awareness developed at the University of Strathclyde, aims with its secondary payload to provide flight data investigating the conditions under which solar panel fragmentation occurs. This experimental payload aims to utilise the flexibility a CubeSat platform provides, developing and testing an initial framework for on board satellite monitoring during atmospheric re-entry. In this paper the initial design and development of this experiment is addressed. A discussion of the challenges encountered when designing a CubeSat for re-entry studies is also undertaken. These challenges include limited available mass, power, and volume inherent to a CubeSat mission, as well as satellite instability, communication blackout and high aerothermal and dynamic loads experienced during re-entry. The sensor platform developed to monitor the solar panels and record re-entry measurements for heat transfer, temperature, velocity, and attitude are also detailed. A trade-off between imaging and the use of electromechanical break switches to monitor fragmentation during re-entry is considered. With these activities, STRATHcube's atmospheric re-entry experiment aims to develop a framework for fragmentation studies, with the obtained flight data allowing for the greater validation and verification of satellite fragmentation in re-entry analysis tools.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2021
Event72nd International Astronautical Congress - Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Duration: 25 Oct 202129 Oct 2021


Conference72nd International Astronautical Congress
Abbreviated titleIAC 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited Arab Emirates
Internet address


  • atmospheric re-entry
  • satellite fragmentation
  • CubeSat
  • aerodynamic stability
  • STRATHcube mission


Dive into the research topics of 'The design of a fragmentation experiment for a CubeSat during atmospheric re-entry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this