Manchester Uni- CubeSat Deployer

University of Manchester, MEng Aerospace Engineering, Conceptual Aerospace Systems Design MACE 31521, 2019



The MEng Aerospace Engineering at the University of Manchester provides students with a broad, well-balanced preparation for professional careers in the aerospace industry (design, development, testing and operation of vehicles and systems), as well as in other areas, such as research, management, technical development and finance.


The design and operation of spacecraft is a multidisciplinary operation covering many aspects of engineering. The students get introduced to the physics of orbits and the space environment as well as the basic physics of spacecraft propulsion, orbit manoeuvres and the key drivers for thermal design, power systems, communication systems and attitude control systems are introduced.


SHERPA deployer AMSAT-UK Spaceflight Inc. (Image credit AMSAT UK)


Students carry out a conceptual group design project leading up to a systems requirements review and a preliminary design review. Conceptual design in aerospace engineering requires requirements analysis, the development of systems models, an understanding of when sufficient analysis has been done to demonstrate the feasibility of a concept, and engineering trade-offs to identify the most promising concepts.



To provide practical experience of project engineering team approaches to conceptual design for aerospace systems, utilising core course material assimilated in years one and two of the course, leading up to a preliminary design review. The focus for the course is on spacecraft systems.

This year the 3rd year students had to design a CubeSat (nanosatellite) Deployer System in one of 3 scenarios.


Project Activities

Conceptual design of a nanosatellite deployer up to the preliminary design review phase.

1. Identify potential customers (end users) by undertaking basic market research, and subsequently develop user needs based on the initial mission brief.

2. Develop and derive requirements from the user needs, which you have identified or are provided to you during the study.

3. Generate and consider solutions (concepts) that meet the system requirements. These solutions should cover both the system level concepts (Chief Engineer leads) and also solutions for each of the subsystems required by the mission (Subsystem leads). The process of developing these concepts will lead you to generating new derived requirements, which must also be recorded to facilitate the design of the system. NOTE: a good literature search will turn up a number of concepts that you can consider in more detail, additionally any suitable truly original ideas will be viewed favourably.

4. Carry out engineering studies (apply physics) and construct systems models (create formulations) to size/define your concepts and demonstrate their feasibility in meeting the system requirements (or not).

5. Use engineering decision-making techniques to trade-off these concepts and thereby identify a single nano-satellite deployer design concept, which you can convincingly demonstrate best meets the user needs over the other concepts.

6. Present your work by means of reports as an individual on your respective area of
responsibility, and as a group on your final concept and requirements tables.

7. Promote your concept by means of a final trade show at the end of the unit.

ION. (Image credit D-Orbit.)


Background to the Design Project

The growth in popularity of nanosatellites over the last 10 years has seen them transition from educational tools to platforms for scientific or commercial applications, with companies such as Planet Labs using constellations of nanosatellites to provide Earth observation data for a range of markets and the recent NASA MarCo interplanetary CubeSat mission

One of the major challenges facing further growth in the nanosatellite market is limited suitable launch opportunities. Of the launch vehicles currently available on the market there also exist a number that routinely launch with spare capacity. Existing nanosatellite deployer systems are limited in:

• Capacity - number of nanosatellites they can deploy
• Capability- number of deployments and total impulse applied to deployed spacecraft and accuracy of deployment
• Versatility - type of nanosatellite they can interface with

This opens up a potential opportunity for the development of a nanosatellite deployer that can integrate with existing launch vehicle systems, is housed within the fairings of existing launch vehicles, and can address the needs of future nanosatellite missions be they constellation deployment or even interplanetary missions.


Students were assigned one of three different design scenarios for nanosatellites and constellations of nanosatellites:

A. Interplanetary deployer (Piggyback/Rideshare). There is a growing interest amongst space agencies and research institutions for nanosatellite planetary flyby or even orbital missions.

Your group will consider the design of a nanosatellite deployer that can inject single or a small number of nano-satellites (typically 6U CubeSat size or similar) into a Mars or other interplanetary trajectory. Options that include planetary capture can be considered however, at a minimum your design should enable Mars flyby of a nanosatellite.

Realistically you will likely consider options that include piggybacking or rideshare however if you can suitably evidence the demand you could also consider dedicated launcher options.

B. Medium Earth Orbit / GEO nanosatellite swarm deployer (Rideshare/Piggybacking). There is a growing interest in the ‘new space’ industry for nanosatellite swarm missions that can carry out in-orbit servicing, end of life de-orbiting of existing satellites or even orbital debris clean-up

Your group will consider the design of a nanosatellite deployer that can inject a small
(approximately 10) swarm of nanosatellites (typically 3U CubeSat size or similar) into MEO and/or GEO.

Realistically you will likely consider options that include piggybacking or rideshare. However, you should evidence demand for a dedicated launcher. You may also like to consider options capable of collection and re-entry of swarm satellites.

C. Low Earth Orbit nanosatellite constellation deployer (Rideshare/ Dedicated launcher). There is a growing interest in the ‘new space’ industry for nanosatellite LEO constellation missions for Earth Observation (EO) and communications applications.

Your group will consider the design of a nanosatellite deployer that can inject nanosatellites (at least 50 1-3U CubeSat size or similar) into a suitable LEO constellation for these missions.

Realistically, you will likely consider options that include ride share or even dedicated launchers for larger constellations, however, you should evidence demand for this type of mission.



Key People

The key people involved with teaching, guiding and assisting the students are

  • Dr Kate Smith (Unit coordinator, Group mentor)
  • Dr Nick Bojdo (Group mentor)
  • Mr Chris Fielding (Group mentor)
  • Dr Antonio Filippone (Group mentor)
  • Dr Alejandro Macario Rojas (Group mentor)
  • Dr Nick Crisp (Group mentor)
  • Gunter Just (GTA group support)
  • Sahil Maharaj (GTA group support)
  • Mobin Malik (GTA group support)
  • Luciana Sinpetru (GTA group support)


Questions & Answers

The student teams were 'grilled' to answer some general and technical questions:


Concept meets the design brief

  • How did you identify/justify your users?
  • How does your design meet/ address the user needs?
  • What is the key selling point of your design?


Design space exploration/feasibility

  • What are the key differences between your different concepts? What other designs did you consider?
  • Why did you select this as the final design?
  • How did you measure the performance of your system(s)
  • Risk – what do you think is the highest risk aspect of your design (technological or other)?
    • How does your design mitigate this risk? – uncertainty in areas of design
  • How did your work-package impact on the design of other work-packages?
  • Which work-packages had an impact on the design of your work package? – for Chief Engineer impact on overall design / for PM impact of CONOPS.


Technical questions – supporting the feasibility

  • CONOPS: which sub-system was the main driver for power?/ how did you investigate the impact of varying the mission timeline on overall system design?
  • Mission: what factors considered in the selection of launch vehicle? / How did you estimate the delta-V requirements?
  • Propulsion: the rationale behind the location of thruster? / what did you consider in the selection of suitable propellant?
  • Structures: what was the principal aspect driving the structural design?/ how did you estimate loading requirements?
  • Thermal: Key factors in the selection of the thermal control system ?/ what was driving the equilibrium temp of the spacecraft?
  • Mechanisms: What was the principal driver in mechanism design?/ How did you estimate the mass and power of the mechanism?/ reliability / function?
  • Power: What was the main driver of the power system? / How did determine power system performance parameters – power, mass, energy storage?
  • Guidance Navigation and Control: How did you estimate the pointing accuracy requirements? / How did you estimate the torque requirements?
  • Comms /Data handling: how did you estimate power system power requirements? / how did you estimate data transfer requirements?




  • How did you manage resources? / How did you track requirements compliance?/ Risk management – how did you identify and deal with risk (technical or not)



  • How did you integrate sub-systems to complete system ?/ How did you iterate on overall system design?


Judges and Teaching Staff



The Judges included;

Myself, Ray Stott, SpaceSpecialists Ltd

Gregory Thorpe, CEO, GTI Space

Bob Morris, Chairman at The Northern Space Consortium CIC


Stephen Longhurst, Department of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil Engineering, University of Manchester


The Winning Teams


Team 3A - The infinite - Best in class A - Interplanetary deployer


Team 2B - Best in class B - GEO/MEO swarm deployer


Team 1C - MOD-POD Best Overall Winner and Best in class C - LEO constellation deployer


Well done to all the teams and good luck in your continuing studies!


Project managed and coordinated by

Dr Katharine Smith| Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering | Co-Director of Aerospace Engineering Undergraduate Programmes| office: George Begg C36 | tel: 0161 306 3731

Blog written by Ray Stott, SpaceSpecialists Ltd

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