Space Bus: What It Is, What It’s for, and How to See It

Space Bus Definition

A space bus of any satellite or spacecraft ensures the proper functioning of that vehicle. Space missions would not launch or be possible without proper equipment, which must include a space bus. Different space bus missions use various buses. However, as far as their basic design goes, these structural components of satellites and spacecraft employ similar subsystems. Only their missions dictate what additional components they should equip. Missions also mandate what specific software their systems should run at launch and when in orbit. To put it more simply, there could be more types of space buses according to each mission, but their basic design always remains the same.

Why is it called a space bus?

First, a spacecraft platform is called a “bus” because it has a cubic or rectangular shape and is designed to carry a spacecraft platform, not unlike a terrestrial bus. Second, the spacecraft bus’s main function is to ensure that other systems making a spacecraft or satellite are run properly. Just like a bus on the ground takes passengers to their destinations, a spacecraft bus sends signals to terminals for a spacecraft or satellite to run its mission. Third, buses are the main bodies of space vehicles. They house spacecraft along with satellite components and scientific equipment. Further, they are made up of many different subsystems. These subsystems receive data and ensure all functions of a spacecraft or satellite are performed flawlessly. Being the main network where data and central power get distributed, a spacecraft bus must oversee functions such as propulsion, attitude control, electric power, thermal control, tracking, telemetry, etc. All subsystems’ infrastructure of spacecraft buses are very compact. Today, aerospace companies try their best to develop even more compact buses that can withstand the harshest space weather conditions.

How large is the space bus?

A spacecraft bus for a large piece of equipment, like the James Webb Space Telescope measures 3,508 mm or 11.509 feet in length without its solar arrays. Calculating the length between the edges of its extended radiator shades, this space component is 6,775 mm or 22.228 feet. But, of course, there are smaller examples, too. If you want to see a spacecraft bus in real life, you could contact a space manufacturing business to view it in the hangar. Additionally, you can ask to participate in a space bus launch organized by an aerospace company or organization. Take note that such events don’t happen every day, so ask ahead when they have scheduled any launch.

Which are the subsystems that make up the system of the space bus?

A space bus definition could be that this system is made up of many different subsystems that ensure the proper functioning of a spacecraft or satellite. Six basic subsystems make up a spacecraft bus. First, you have an Electrical Power System or EPS, which converts sunlight captured by a vehicle’s solar arrays straight into energy. This energy is necessary for Science Instrument Payload and other subsystems to function. Second, there’s an Attitude Control Subsystem or ACS. The ACS senses the Observatory’s orientation and keeps it stable in orbit. It points out the position in the sky where Science Instruments should start making observations. Next, there’s a Propulsion Subsystem or PS, keeping the entire satellite or spacecraft structure in low Earth orbit. The PC receives ACS commands. The Communications Subsystem (CS) works directly with the Operations Control Center (OCC). It receives and sends data from and to it. Then, you have the Command and Data Handling Subsystem or C&DH. This subsystem ensures that Science Instruments are working properly while also controlling data storage/memory and communications. Last, there is a Rocket Thrusters and Propellant Subsystem (RT&P), without which the spacecraft or satellite could not correct orbit or remain stationary.

What is a space bus used for?

The main body of any spacecraft or satellite, a bus runs on the primary systems of a vehicle and houses all scientific payloads. No spacecraft or satellite can function without the space bus. This structural component should resist any space weather conditions and use the most advanced software that maintains its subsystems and scientific equipment. This mechanism is essential for the proper functioning of a spacecraft or satellite. Thus, no space mission can run its course and succeed without it. Space platforms should run perfectly and have a well-thought design. When first invented and launched, these structural components of spacecraft and satellites amazed the world with their capabilities. It takes years to build them because they must work perfectly, and nothing should escape their complex design schemes. Other systems and components of any spacecraft could not work without these platforms. Knowing all this, you can only imagine how useful this revolutionary space component that’s in charge of power, attitude, data handling, command, communications, control, and many other functions is for a space mission. 

Maybe the days when we will be able to launch a spacecraft and satellite in orbit and keep it there without a space bus will arrive. But for now, and farther into the future, it doesn’t look like we’re going to forget what space platforms are and neither about their importance for space missions. Space companies fiercely compete to build more compact and efficient structural components, so spacecraft and satellites will equip increasingly more advanced platforms sooner rather than later. 

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