A Methodology for the Integrated Design of Small Satellite Constellation Deployment

Student thesis: Phd


A growing interest in distributed systems of small satellites has recently emerged due to their ability to perform a variety of new mission types, increasing technical capability, and reduced time and cost for development. However, the lack of available and dedicated small launch services currently restricts the establishment of these systems in orbit. Secondary payload launch opportunities and alternative deployment strategies can address the issue of access-to-orbit and support the delivery of the constellation to the correct orbit configuration following launch. Of these deployment strategies, the method of indirect plane separation, which utilises the natural precession of Earth orbits, is particularly applicable to the deployment of small satellite constellations due to the potential to significantly reduce propulsive requirements, albeit at the cost of increased deployment time.A review of satellite constellation design revealed that existing methods and tools are not suitable for the analysis of small satellite constellations and are not equipped to investigate alternative deployment strategies, despite the potential benefits of improved access-to-orbit, reduced system complexity, and reduced cost. To address the identified gaps in the design process, a methodology in which the analysis of small satellite constellation deployment is integrated into the system design framework is presented in this thesis. The corresponding system design-space is subsequently explored using a numerical optimisation method, which aids the identification of effective system designs and promotes the understanding of relationships between the design variables and output objectives. The primary objectives of this methodology are to ensure that the different opportunities for deployment of small satellite constellations are thoroughly examined during the design process and to support the development of improved mission and system designs.The presented methodology is demonstrated using a reduced order framework comprised of an analysis for the deployment of small satellite constellations, preliminary vehicle and propulsion system sizing processes, and system cost estimating relationships. Using this simplified mission design framework, the design space-exploration of three small satellite constellation mission case-studies is performed by application of a multiobjective genetic algorithm. Objectives of time-to-deploy, system mass, and system cost are used to direct the optimisation process and search for the most effective solutions in the system design-space. In order to perform the analysis of constellation deployment by the process of indirect plane separation, a simulation method using a semi-analytical propagation technique and time-varying atmospheric density model was developed and verified by comparison to the actual deployment of the FORMOSAT-3/COSMIC mission.The results of the case-studies presented illustrate the ability of the developed methodology to support the design process for satellite constellations and enable the identification of promising and improved system architectures for further development. Moreover, through the enumeration and quantification of the system design-space and tradespace, the methodology is shown to support the identification of relationships and trends between the design variables and selected output objectives, increasing the knowledge available to the system design team during the design process.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKatharine Smith (Supervisor) & Peter Hollingsworth (Supervisor)


  • Genetic algorithm
  • Small satellites
  • Nanosatellites
  • Access to orbit
  • Multiobjective optimisation

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