Engineering simulation provides a virtual environment for designing durable spacecraft components

Written by: ANSYS | Published: 03/17

The structural components of the Tranquility Trek spacecraft comprise aluminium and lightweight composites in which carbon fibre is bonded to aluminium honeycomb to form a high-strength yet lightweight sandwich material. The layered construction and anisotropic properties of the sandwich require specialised pre-processing tools to accurately represent the fibre direction of every layer of carbon. Specialised post-processing tools are needed to predict sandwich failure. Random loads during launch must also be taken into account. Astrobotic needed to test multiple spacecraft configurations under launch conditions to select and refine the best design in a cost-effective manner.

Engineering Solution

  • Engineers imported CAD geometry into the ANSYS environment using a direct interface.
  • The ANSYS DesignModeler tool pre-processed the model to prepare it for simulation.
  • ANSYS Meshing provided automated discretisation of the geometry while allowing user-defined refinement in regions of interest.
  • To define the layered elements for laminate and sandwich layups, engineers used ANSYS Parametric Design Language (APDL) for ANSYS Mechanical software within the ANSYS Workbench environment.
  • The team employed ANSYS Mechanical software within Workbench to define multiple analysis types (free vibration, static acceleration and random vibration) that all share the same geometry, material properties and connections.
  • Using ANSYS Mechanical APDL capabilities within ANSYS Workbench, engineers compared the results against failure criteria to consider the layered construction of the materials and to identify regions of potential failure.


Using design and simulation tools from ANSYS:

  • Astrobotic was able to quickly design and refine a lightweight aluminium and composite spacecraft to withstand the static acceleration and dynamic random vibration loads of launch while maintaining an acceptable level of safety.
  • The ANSYS Workbench environment provided automated communications between the CAD software, pre-processor, solver and post-processor that allowed solutions to be updated quickly and easily after changing design parameters.
  • Astrobotic gained the ability to test different configurations of material layup definition with minimal effort.
  • Engineers could tweak and reshape components without the need to redefine mesh controls or loading.
  • Although physical testing will be conducted to validate spacecraft design, simulation helped to reduce costly prototypes and physical testing.
  • The cycle time required for the tire balancing process was reduced by 20%.

John Thornton, chief engineer, Astobotic Technology, said: “Using design and simulation tools from ANSYS, Astrobotic quickly designed and refined a lightweight aluminium and composite spacecraft able to withstand static acceleration and dynamic random vibration loads of launch while maintaining an acceptable level of safety. Simulation helps reduce costs related to prototypes and physical testing.”