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DIY Satellite Platforms by Sandy Antunes

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Chapter 2. PCB Fab, Soldering, and Electronics

In Chapter 1, I discussed the two “cases” or architectures for your picosatellite: the CubeSat or the TubeSat. You will populate these with the guts of your mission. A typical loadout will include the antenna, the radio transmitter board, the solar cells, a battery, a power bus, a processor, and the sensors.

Solar cells will have to be soldered onto Printed Circuit Board (PCB) slats. These will be wired, along with the battery, onto some sort of power bus—another PCB. The on-board processor is likely to be an Arduino or BasicX-24 PCB board. The radio transmitter will be off-the-shelf components wired onto a PCB. Finally, your sensors may or may not have their own PCBs.

That’s a lot of boards. Fortunately, fabrication and construction is very easily outsourced these days. You start with a fundamental choice: whether to do through-hole soldering (where you stick the wires for each component through the board, and then solder them with a soldering gun) or to use the lighter Surface Mount Technology (SMT) components.

Most of the MAKE, Arduino, and RadioShack kits out there still use through-hole soldering. It is, in my opinion, an easier task to accomplish. For through-hole, you heat up an iron, place the component, and solder it.

However, the industry is shifting towards SMT parts. They are smaller and cheaper. Soldering SMT requires tweezers, a magnifying glass, and (ideally) the use of a hot plate and heat gun rather than an iron. It requires ...

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