Spacecraft Architecture and Its Role in Exoplanet Exploration

spacecraft architecture

Architecture now plays an increasingly vital role in outer space. From inflatable 3D-printed structures to entire space habitats, architecture’s presence is growing. But its challenges can be considerable: keeping residents comfortable while accommodating change while remaining functional at scale are just two major ones.

Aerospace is developing strategies and processes to accelerate rapid development, quick procurement, responsive launch and distributed system function – creating greater resilience by allowing systems to be replaced or reconfigured quickly.


Spacecraft subsystems that assist it in its mission include its bus, command and data handling systems, propulsion engines, power supplies and thermal controls.

Thermal subsystems play an essential role in keeping all components within their maximum and minimum operational temperature limits throughout a satellite’s mission, and keeping their temperatures within their maximum and minimum operational temperature ranges for optimal functionality or permanent damage prevention. If temperatures go beyond these parameters, functionality could be impaired or permanent damage could occur to individual components.

An onboard computer of a spacecraft performs various essential tasks, such as receiving uplink commands, interpreting and dispersing them to subsystems for implementation, collecting and formatting telemetry data for downlinking, managing high-level fault protection routines and performing other essential functions. Known as the central computer or C&DHS, this onboard computer typically requires point-of-load power solutions, interfaces and operational amplifiers for its operations.

Spacecraft structure subsystems serve to attach internal and external hardware as well as house delicate modules that require thermal or mechanical stability. Furthermore, this subsystem influences its basic geometry as well as providing attachment points for booms, antennas and scan platforms – providing appendages such as booms or antennas with support points to attach themselves securely.


Spacecraft design is strongly determined by its subsystems and intended environment, such as instruments that need space from structures for proper functioning (such as magnetometers). This places specific demands on architecture design.

Due to limitations imposed by launch vehicle dimensions and payload requirements, large structures such as habitats must be designed as modular modules to enable quick assembly once they arrive in space. This significantly limits the size of rigid components that can be constructed while necessitating complex systems for connecting them manually once they’ve made it there.

architects and industrial designers are increasingly getting involved with spacecraft architecture as focus shifts toward longer-term exploration of celestial bodies. They play key roles in designing robot rovers and probes, lunar base architecture and Mars base architecture, microgravity tests, as well as providing systems engineering support services.


Payload refers to what a rocket transports into space, whether that be satellites or other spacecraft.

Sensors on spacecraft collect and convey information about their surrounding environment. Often these complex instruments must be integrated seamlessly with the larger structure of a spacecraft. Interface requirements will depend upon parameters like mission lifetime, resolution and field of view when designing sensors.

Spacecraft are expected to collect and transmit data at increasing rates, prompting technical advances in radio-based instrumentation and communication systems. These include signal coding and modulation to reduce data rates as well as radio frequency equipment such as amplifiers, transponders and receivers for reliable links over thousands of kilometres.

Launch Vehicles

Space architecture involves designing structures for spaceflight and planet exploration, from robotic rover design and extreme Earth environment habitat planning and construction, through lunar and Mars base designs, launch facilities planning, systems engineering and microgravity testing simulation.

Spacecraft engineers face unique challenges unique to orbital space, including rapid thermal expansion, increased electrical power consumption and corrosion due to particle and atomic oxygen bombardment. Finding materials solutions which help meet mass and cost targets are of key importance to designers.

To streamline Pentagon procurement cycles and gain experience quickly with emerging technologies, the US Defense Department established its own Space Development Agency (SDA). Modeled after Silicon Valley iterative design practices, this approach enabled SDA to design its National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA) around “tranches,” with new capabilities being released every September in even-numbered years. This allowed iterative design practices at SDA to quickly gain expertise while helping put space assets directly into warfighters hands.

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