DESIGN Challenge Card

Challenge 7: Shielding Satellites

Key Question

How can we insulate a satellite to protect it from extreme temperatures in low-Earth orbit?


Objects in space, including satellites, are exposed to extreme temperatures. When satellites in

orbit near Earth are exposed to sunlight, the surface temperature of the satellite can reach over

150°C (300°F). When the satellite passes behind the Earth, out of the path of sunlight, the surface

temperature can drop to -130°C (-200°F). Insulation and thermal control systems are important

features of a satellite because the systems located inside the satellite can stop working if the internal

temperature of the satellite gets too high or too low.

Design Challenge

A mobile communications company is planning to launch a series of satellites to create a global

communication network. Your team of scientists and aerospace engineers is competing with other

teams to design the spacecraft bus—the structural part of the satellite. The spacecraft bus must

insulate the satellite so that it is able to maintain a stable internal temperature range when exposed

to the extreme temperatures of space. The company has asked each design team to build a prototype

small satellite (SmallSat) as a proof of concept.


The prototype must contain space for a

thermometer or temperature probe to be

placed inside during testing

The internal temperature of a successful

prototype will not drop more than 5°C

during the low temperature test.

The internal temperature of a successful

prototype will not rise more than 5°C during

the high temperature test.

The presentation should describe—

the materials and how they were selected;

how radiation, convection, and conduction

were considered in the prototype design;


the results of the low temperature and

high temperature tests.


Teams may choose only from the materials


The size of the prototype must be no larger

than 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm.

The mass of the prototype must not be

greater than 1 kg.

You will have 45 minutes to create your


Use caution if working with a hot glue gun.

Use caution when working around heat lamps.

Do not touch the lamp or the bulb.


fety Note:

460-2058 SDCS G6-8.indb 149460-2058 SDCS G6-8.indb 1497/9/2021 4:50:45 PM7/9/2021 4:50:45 PM
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