Traditionally, the preliminary thermal design is behind the mechanical and electrical spacecraft design. Many factors contribute to this including a lack of detailed physical characteristics of the spacecraft and knowledge of the distribution of the thermal loads within the spacecraft. Therefore, the thermal design typically reacts to the mechanical and electrical designs. The thermal analyst gets a configuration and then tries to wrap an acceptable solution around it. The analyst relies on years of experience and trial and error to determine the appropriate design cases and create a thermal design. Depending on the experience level of the engineer, several iterations may be necessary to determine the worst-case design points and an acceptable thermal design.

Suppose analysis tools were available that would allow the thermal engineer to rapidly produce preliminary designs and weave the thermal design requirements such as thermal radiator size, preferred radiator location and heat load location into the overall spacecraft design. The result would be a more integrated spacecraft thermal design completed in less time using less of the spacecraft resources.

Advances in thermal analysis software provide the tools for the thermal engineer to perform preliminary analyses more quickly and accurately than ever before. The result is that the thermal engineer can have a greater influence on the spacecraft design process.

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SAE Technical Paper Series
D. Martin