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Satellite Bus System: Anomalies & Failures Caused by the Space Environment



Space Environment

A satellite bus is the main structural component of a satellite that ensures all its service systems are working properly. However, since the space environment is not at all friendly, satellite bus systems can suffer anomalies and eventually fail to work, especially after being in service for a long time. Let’s see what space environment hazards are and learn why spacecraft or satellite bus systems fail.

What are the major hazards of the space environment?

Any spacecraft bus system or machinery we send into space is subject to space environment risks. For example, it’s very important that we shield sensitive electronics from space radiation. If not, after orbiting above our planet at hundreds of miles altitude, the spacecraft may prematurely end its mission and even end up crashing into Earth. The main space environment hazard is radiation. The radiation Sun emits responsible for the most dangerous space weather conditions. Satellite bus systems and electronics also suffer damage from space dust, which hits their systems and becomes plasma. And this plasma is not at all beneficial for our technology. One of the other space environmental hazards is space pollution. There are many satellites in orbit, so the orbit environment is too crowded for the satellite bus systems we send out there. Sometimes, these systems collide with each other. Space debris usually consists of dead satellites, rocket bodies, and hundreds of thousands of tiny particles that circle our planet.

Failures of the satellite bus system

There are many reasons why spacecraft fail. Let’s learn from past examples why this has happened. For example, in 2021, European Space Agency’s (ESA) operators noticed that satellites measuring our planet’s magnetic field started descending into the atmosphere very fast. The speed was ten times more rapid than ever before. According to expert conclusions, this problem was caused by a new solar cycle’s onset. And spacecraft failures don’t stop here. For instance, spacecraft that orbit close to our planet also face residual atmosphere drag. This drag slows any spacecraft gradually, which means it causes satellites to fall from orbit. According to space experts, this drag’s intensity depends a lot on solar activity and solar wind speed. Now that we have some knowledge of why satellites fail, we can be sure that our future spacecraft bus space missions will be successful. So, we can learn a lot from past failures and work harder to improve spacecraft functionality in such a hazardous environment.

What causes satellites to fail?

Satellites can fail not only mechanically but also electronically. This is happening because there’s a lot of space debris in the space environment. Space scientists from all around the world investigate this matter and how space debris is changing with time. We need spacecraft that don’t fail if we want communication and space flight to be commercialized. The Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation took responsibility for the spacecraft bus system’s safety and concluded that space debris is something we should address because it’s one of the major causes of spacecraft failing. And there’s more, as the US Navy and NSF are now funding research that analyses the connection between plasma, lightning, and meteoroids or other space phenomena to understand why spacecraft communications fail or get interrupted. While you might think that spacecraft communication failure is not really a problem, it’s still a type of satellite bus failure. If we want to become a multi-planetary species, we need communication satellites just as much as we need spacecraft for observing and exploring outer space.

Anomalies of the satellite bus system

Satellite bus system anomalies are mission-degrading events affecting the on-orbit satellite bus systems. They appear during the operational life cycle of a spacecraft bus system and can have different severity degrees. For example, the solar panel of a satellite bus system could degrade, and the spacecraft mission could be suddenly interrupted. Space scientists analyse these spacecraft bus anomalies and try to understand the reasons behind such unfortunate events. After dealing with anomalies, our satellite bus systems can stay in orbit for longer. Sharing spacecraft anomaly information through cryptographic methods and trying to improve the state of our spacecraft bus systems helps satellites fail less often. Some identified anomalies of spacecraft bus systems are internal charging, surface charging, Total Ionizing Dosage (TID), Electrostatic Discharge (ESD), faulty design and hardware, Single Event Effects (SEE), operator error, and others.

Identifying spacecraft bus system anomalies and failures helps us service our satellites and other space equipment. Luckily, we have service provider satellites that can fix problems we might have with spacecraft bus systems. What’s important is that we keep this machinery working for a long and avoid any future failures.

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