James Stables

  • Department of Aerospace
  • Supervisor: Dr Lucy Berthoud
  • Project: Thermal control in a propulsion capable CubeSat

CubeSats are cheap miniature satellites made in 10 cm3 units and launched into orbit alongside larger conventional payloads in order to reduce costs, making them attractive to research institutions. They have limited capabilities, and so multiple propulsion systems are under development to increase the range of missions they can perform. However, in space applications thermal behaviour is critical due to the extreme environments experienced, and since CubeSats have not flown with propulsion systems the effects of such systems on CubeSat thermal performance had not been investigated.

In my project I worked to address this, researching the missions and thermal environments within which a propulsion capable CubeSat could be required to perform, and the propulsion systems under development suitable for CubeSat application. I then selected the propulsion systems most applicable to each mission, and created, verified and tested a model CubeSat in these environments using the ESA-verified thermal modelling suite ESATAN-TMS.

I found that in the majority of cases, it was thermally feasible to employ propulsion systems within the missions that I had selected them for with some limitations required to ensure operation, such as minimum orbit inclinations. Additional investigation into the effect of deployable solar panels and alternative surface finishes found that reductions to these limitations were possible, although such techniques would have inherent cost consequences.


Throughout my time at school I found myself drawn to mathematics and science as the subjects most interesting to me. Because of this engineering seemed to be a natural career choice, and so I decided to study it at university. An interest in aircraft and the many complications inherent in their design drew me to aeronautical engineering, and the excellent reputation of the University of Bristol led to me to apply to study there.

I graduated with an MEng in Aeronautical Engineering in 2014, and I found my time at Bristol to be extremely rewarding and enjoyable, and the course well structured, interesting and challenging. Substantial opportunities to select options interesting to you are offered in the later years of the course, and I found myself focussing increasingly on space and structures related topics. This led to my topic selections of the design of a satellite in the 4th year Group Design Project and Thermal Control of a Propulsion Capable CubeSat in my Final Year Project.

After my third year I worked as a summer intern at Rolls-Royce Plc, and following the conclusion of my studies I have been accepted onto the Rolls-Royce Graduate Training Scheme, working in the Defence Aerospace sector.

James Stables, Aerospace Engineering (MEng)
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