UCLA Extension

Satellite Thermal Control

Satellite thermal control continues to evolve into a distinct discipline in the space industry and the current trend in spacecraft design demands innovative thermal control hardware and methodology to accommodate the high-thermal density electronics of today’s satellites. This course provides the background and specific information to begin conducting thermal analysis and to participate in the thermal design of satellite systems. It presents basic principles of spacecraft thermal design, including an overview of satellite systems and space flight thermal environments, active and passive thermal control hardware, cryogenic cooling systems, and thermal analysis tools used in the aerospace industry. There is also a complete overview of the satellite thermal control testing process.

The course benefits entry-level thermal engineers without extensive spacecraft experience, engineers in other related disciplines, system managers, and government professionals in the space industry who do not have a background in thermal design but who must make program-level decisions involving thermal design. Participants only need a basic understanding of conductive, radiative, and convective heat transfer principles.

Course Materials

The text, Spacecraft Thermal Control Handbook: Fundamental Technologies, Second Edition, David G. Gilmore, editor (AIAA Aerospace Press, 2002), and lecture notes are distributed on the first day of the course. The notes are for participants only and are not for sale.

Coordinator and Lecturer

David G. Gilmore is a Senior Engineering Specialist in the Spacecraft Thermal Department of The Aerospace Corporation and has over 35 years of experience in the design, analysis and test of spacecraft thermal control systems. He has provided support to a wide range of scientific, commercial, and national security spacecraft programs. Responsibilities include independent design, analysis and review of spacecraft and instrument thermal control systems as well as support to source selections, thermal tests and launch and flight operations.


Dr. Tung T. Lam, Ph.D, P.E., is currently the Director of the Spacecraft Thermal Department at The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, California. He is responsible for thermal control of every satellite in the Aerospace portfolio, which includes a wide range of national security-related projects and NASA missions. He has published more than 70 journal papers and conference proceedings and is a contributing author to major sections of Aerospace’s Spacecraft Thermal Control Handbook. He is the organizer of the annual Spacecraft Thermal Control Workshop at Aerospace and several international conferences, and is an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

John W. Welch is the Associate Director of the Spacecraft Thermal Department at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, CA. His expertise includes thermal testing, interface thermal conductance, and spacecraft thermal design development. He is the principal author of thermal testing requirements found in MIL-STD-1540. He has authored several papers on thermal testing and taught courses on the subject through AIAA and UCLA. Furthermore, he is the author of the Thermal Testing chapter in the Spacecraft Thermal Control Handbook and the Satellite Thermal Control Handbook. He has practical spacecraft design experience from concept definition, through thermal analysis activities, to launch support and flight anomaly resolutions on many military programs ranging from large national security and communication satellites to small class C spacecraft

Dr. Sidney Yuan is an internationally known expert in Cryogenics. His expertise include analysis, design and manufacture of cryostats, cryoradiators and mechanical cryocoolers. He has been teaching an undergraduate course at UCLA on Cryogenics since 2003. Dr. Yuan co-authored a book on Cryogenics- Low Temperature Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is the Editor of “Space Cryogenics Workshop Proceedings”, 2010. Guest Editor, of Cryogenics Journal, Elsevier, Volume 50, September 2010 and Technical Editor of Proceedings of Advances in Cryogenics Engineering, 2011. He has over 60 publications with more than 55 scientific papers. Dr. Yuan has three patents and six pending patents in Cryogenics. Dr. Yuan is a Sr. Engineering Specialist at The Aerospace Corporation. He was the Technical Director of Raytheon’s Space Cryocooler Division and the Chief Scientist for L3 Com (previously known as BEI Electronics) Tactical Cryocooler Division.

Course Program

Overview of Satellite Thermal Control Subsystems

  • Satellite missions and orbits
  • Types of satellites
    — Three axis
    — Spinner
    — Pallet
  • Role of the thermal control subsystem
  • Thermal design architectures
    — Three axis
    — Spinner
    — Pallet

Thermal Control Subsystems Design

  • Fundamental strategy
  • Design approach
  • Requirements flow-down
  • Design drivers
  • Margins
  • Environments

Thermal Control Hardware

  • Surface finishes
  • Heaters
  • Multilayer insulation blankets and barriers
  • Heat pipes
  • Pumped loops
  • Louvers
  • Phase change materials
  • Doublers, isolators, and ground straps


  • Introduction and background
  • Stored expendable systems
  • Cryogenic radiators/radiant coolers
  • Thermoelectric coolers
  • Mechanical refrigerators (cryocoolers)
  • Phase change materials
  • Cryogenic heat transport
  • Reasons for system shortfall
  • Methodology for computing heat loads and sizing cryogenic system

Thermal Control System Analysis

  • Key process steps for thermal analysis
    — Establish requirements/constraints
    — Obtain design information/details
    — Determine heat dissipation and weights
    — Define operation modes
    — Form matrix of computer runs
    — Obtain thermal property data
    — Construct math models
    — Debug model
    — Make production runs
  • Numerical thermal math model concepts
    — Lumped analysis
    — Network solutions
    — Nodal scheme
    — Conductors
    — Energy sources and sinks
  • Numerical geometric math model concepts
    — Lumped surface geometric node analysis
    — Environment definition
    — Property models
  • Thermal math model computer codes
    — Finite element codes
    — Finite difference codes
  • Geometric math model codes
    — Monte Carlo
    — Numerical integration codes
  • Analysis software

Spacecraft Program Phases

  • Concept definition phase
  • Proposal phase
    — Temperature and power density requirements
    — Reliable, minimum risk technology
    — Compliance with specifications and standards
    — Design testability and verification
    — Identify key trade studies
  • Identify key technological development
  • Concept to preliminary design review
  • Preliminary design review to critical design review
  • Critical design review to launch

Thermal Testing and Verification

  • Introduction and overview
    — Purpose of testing
    — Thermal tests
  • Application of environments
    — Thermal analysis results
    — Margins
  • Unit level testing
    — Thermal cycling
    — Thermal vacuum
  • Development and subsystem level testing
    — Development and level testing
    — Subsystem level testing
  • System level testing
    — Thermal cycling
    — Thermal vacuum
    — Thermal balance

Related Thermal Topics

  • Electronics box thermal control systems
    — Packaging concepts
    — Thermal analysis approach
    — Derating and failure data
  • Surface degradation and contamination
    — Sources of degradation
    — Contamination
    — Material selection

Thermal Control Subsystem Technology Projection

  • Technology drivers
  • Recent technology advances
  • Emerging technologies for the future

For more information contact the Short Course Program Office:
shortcourses@uclaextension.edu (310) 825-3344 | fax (310) 206-2815