Designing Better CubeSats Using System-Level Simulations


  • This class familiarizes users with the workflows of modeling and analyzing a CubeSat mission using digital mission engineering best practices.
  • All students will receive an AIAA Certificate of Completion at the end of the course


Space systems are exceptionally complex and dynamic, which for decades made them too expensive for commercial organizations to own and operate. CubeSat systems, which feature many small and inexpensive satellites, are one of the fastest growing areas of the aerospace industry. However, the compact form of a CubeSat presents many design challenges. To successfully overcome these challenges, you need to use digital modeling, simulation, and analysis.

Learning Objectives 

  • Create a scenario in STK
  • Add and modify objects in the mission
  • Determine line of sight between assets
  • Generate reports and graphs
  • Design an ideal orbit to provide the most observation times of specified ground targets
  • Understand orbital elements and different orbits
  • Analyze average solar panel power generation
  • Conduct power generation/consumption studies
  • Analyze the average solar panel power generation over the course of a year
  • Model an RF link
  • Establish link and telemetry budget
  • Model environmental losses and examine the effects
  • See Detailed Outline Below
Who Should Attend: Aerodynamics Engineers, Aerospace Engineers, Antenna Design Engineer, Satellite Operators, System Engineers, and Thermal Engineers.

This course is also available as an on-demand short course. (Sign-In To Register

Classroom hours / CEUs: 8 classroom hours / 0.8 CEU/PDH


This is a 4-part virtual training series. Each part consists of a 2-hour course covering both lectures and workshops.

Part 1: STK Fundamentals

Systems Tool Kit (STK) is a digital mission engineering application that features an accurate, physics-based modeling environment in which you can analyze platforms and payloads in a realistic mission context. With STK, you can design your satellite, model constraints, vary parameters, and analyze the performance within the entire space system. It’s exactly the kind of tool you need to design and plan a CubeSat system because it enables you to continually validate your design against the operational environment in which it will need to perform.

This class will introduce how to model a CubeSat inside STK’s realistic and time-dynamic three-dimensional simulation environment, which includes high-resolution terrain, imagery, radio frequency (RF) environments, and more. You will learn how to select, build, or import precise models of ground, air, and space assets and combine them to represent existing or proposed systems. And you will simulate the entire system-of-systems in action to gain a clear understanding of its behavior and mission performance.

Part 2: Orbit Design

In the first class of this series, we focused on the role a CubeSat plays in an entire space system, including systems on the ground and the environments of Earth and space. But CubeSat design is also a lesson in compromise. Because they are secondary payloads, CubeSats have little flexibility in orbit selection. And because of their size, they are subject to many constraints.

This part of the series will focus on orbit design and optimization. You will learn about the types of orbits and orbital elements, the relationship between satellites and ground targets, and determine how to optimize observation time between them.

Part 3: Solar and Power Design

In part 2 of this series, you learned about orbits and planned a suitable orbit for your mission. Now we will take a closer look at how successful that orbit would be from the perspective of power generation. Before even launching a satellite, engineers need to understand how much power their solar panels can generate and how much power the on-board systems will consume. They must also consider if the batteries will be able to supply the systems at peak power draw.

This part of the series will focus on analyzing the solar and power design of a satellite. You will calculate the total power generated and consumed by the onboard systems and learn how power generation changes over time. The optimal solar panel and battery combination to satisfy mission requirements will be selected.

Part 4: Communication Design

Over the course of this training series we have studied the impact that orbits and power have on your CubeSat design. Various features of CubeSats significantly influence the performance of their communication system as well.


In this class, we will explore an end-to-end communication system design. The goal is to characterize a communication link between our space and ground assets, to choose the spacecraft components that best satisfy the link requirements. We will establish a link and telemetry budget for the mission as well as examine the effects of environmental losses. The conclusion of this analysis will tell us which transceivers will best satisfy the link requirements.



Cody Short, PhD, leads STK Astrogator development as well as the AGI Space Systems Group. He enjoys participating in the astrodynamics community whenever he can. Cody learned during an early stint at NASA Marshall that engineers have all the fun, so he went to Purdue for grad school after completing an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. At Purdue, he became Dr. Short, but almost everyone still calls him Cody. While at Purdue, he focused in dynamical systems theory and computational engineering while working in the Multi-Body Dynamics research group. Cody is a proud Eagle Scout, and in his free time he serves in his sons' Scouting units and collects an ever-growing stack of unread comic books.

Jim Woodburn, PhD, is responsible for the development, verification, and enhancement of algorithms related to orbit determination, orbit dynamics, reentry prediction, and visibility computations in AGI’s software. Jim has worked in the field of satellite dynamics and operations since 1986. He holds three U.S. patents and has presented numerous technical papers at industry conferences. As a recognized expert in orbit determination, Jim also participates in industry peer reviews and provides operational support for programs using AGI’s flight dynamics tools. Jim has a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering from the Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Haroon Rashid, PhD,
 is a Principal R&D Engineer and has been a part of the AGI development team, leading a team to support development of AGI’s Communications, Navigation and Radar systems analytical modules. He works with the user organizations to ensure that STK software satisfies requirements for interference analysis and resolving issues related to frequency spectrum sharing at international levels. Haroon was a part of a technical group representing FCC at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for establishing ITU-R recommendations. Prior to AGI, Haroon worked for the Saudi Arabian Department of Defense in the Middle East. He was a senior adviser on a project jointly carried out by the U.S. Air Force and the Saudi Arabian Air Force. His key responsibility was in defense communications high-speed network planning. From 1986 until 1995, Haroon served as a supervisor for communications planning and engineering. He was also assigned responsibility as a senior project manager at Saudi Aramco to lead implementation of digital communications network for an oil refinery & a large housing project. The project equipment cost was more than $11 million. Haroon also worked for the University of Arkansas, where he taught electrical engineering and conducted research on an artificial intelligence project for the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Novarah Kazmi Policht is a Senior Application Engineer at Ansys Government Initiatives (AGI). In her role she has been teaching users practical skills in digital mission modeling using STK for over 6 years. She specializes in using STK for orbit design and maneuver planning for satellite and spacecraft missions as well in electro-optical infrared (EOIR) sensor performance and image prediction. She has trained over 7,000 users in her tenure at AGI and is also one of two AGI engineers to become Penn State adjunct instructors enabling students to earn CEUs for approved classes. Nova earned her undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And as a space enthusiast she is excited to use modern tools to design future missions.

Annemarie Lemme is an Application Engineer at Ansys Government Initiatives (AGI), specializing in STK. Prior to joining AGI, she studied at Iowa State University and majored in Aerospace engineering, where she graduated with honors. Annemarie is passionate about teaching STK, building on her experience at Iowa State as a peer mentor and teaching assistant.



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