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Space Blog

The challenges of AIT: Preparing for Flight

The final flight preparation stages of AIT are rigorous, and undertaken with the added pressure of a looming launch date.

In Part One of our Challenges of Assembly, Integration and Test Blog we covered the activities of the AIT team up to the ‘soft stack’ phase.  Space Blog is back finding out about the 'hard stack' phase, and the final preparation for launch and flight. 

When the project team are confident that the modules and their sub-system interfaces function as expected the modules are removed from the structure and taken back to the Flight Assembly clean room.

Removing a module from the spacecraft stack for final flight preparation

Here they undergo final flight preparation by having the larger components tied down to the printed circuit boards and fasteners tightened up to the levels required to survive launch stresses. Further protection is also introduced at this stage for the various components and exposed electrical items by sealing and encapsulating them in a resin film that resists the rigours of the space environment.

After flight preparation, the module trays are delivered back to the AIT Hall for  ‘hard stack’ where the module trays are positioned back into the structure, the tray fasteners are tightened to full launch levels, and adhesive is secured between the spacecraft panels and the fastener head. 

’Hard stack’ of an SSTL-150 platform Final tests are then carried out on the spacecraft to ensure all the platform interfaces are working as designed, culminating in a Test Readiness Review meeting where the project team gathers to report, review and discuss the previous tests results.  The aim of the meeting is agreement to commence the Environmental Test (EVT) campaign where tests designed to mimic the severe conditions of launch and the Space environment on the satellite are carried out -  these include vibration, thermal vacuum and electromagnetic compatibility (radio interference check) testing and mass properties measurements such as weight and centre of gravity.

NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X undergoing EVT testing at RAL

After EVT, extensive system testing is undertaken to verify the on-board computer flight software functionality, including loading ‘SKED’ files which are scheduled tasks such as image acquisition, manoeuvring, and health checks that the on-board computer would be required to carry out in orbit.

Once the flight software has been fully tested the SSTL team conduct ‘A day in the life’ test where the spacecraft is instructed to perform all of its functions as if it were already in Earth orbit. On larger missions this can extend to ‘a week’ or even ‘a month’ in the life of the craft. On the day Space Blog visited SSTL, engineers from the Kazakhstan space agency were running their spacecraft through this programme to check readiness for its launch next year. 

Kaz-MRES spacecraft in SSTL's AIT Hall

Only when all of these checks, and rechecks, are complete, and the customer is happy, can a spacecraft be given the SSTL ‘Space-ready seal of approval’ that indicates that the spacecraft is ready for launch and to live out its lifecycle in the harsh conditions of Space.






29 November 20130 Comments1 Comment

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