by James Mason, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)
The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS) 3U CubeSat is a loaf-of-bread sized spacecraft currently in low Earth orbit. Its science objective is to measure the energy distribution of soft x-ray sunlight. This part of the spectrum is precisely where the greatest enhancement from solar flares -- explosions that amount to more than 1000x the total world energy consumption over the last 42 years -- is expected. MinXSS measurements will aid in our scientific understanding of flares and their influence on the Earth's upper atmosphere. MinXSS was designed, built, and is operated at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU) Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).
The MinXSS science measurements depend on the success of the spacecraft as a whole. Temperature is a critical component to that success. At LASP, we used Thermal Desktop to predict the orbital temperature range for each component of the spacecraft and provide confidence that those components would stay within their operational limits. Furthermore, the science instrument needs to be kept quite cold (-50 ºC), so Thermal Desktop was used to test thermal designs that could achieve this important thermal requirement. We also created a model of our thermal vacuum chamber and ran simulations to compare to our thermal balance testing, which provided us with confidence in the model orbit predictions. Overall, Thermal Desktop enables a level of precision prediction that would be prohibitively labor intensive otherwise. The GUI makes visualization of the model intuitive and the depth built into the straight-forward menus provide a level of control and fine-tuning that match our needs for satellite design.