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Space Blog

Taking the strain out of assembling a satellite

How do you safely shift a satellite?  Delicately and slowly....
Here at SSTL we’re world-renowned for manufacturing small satellites, but despite their small size they’re often too big to man-handle and that’s when we rely on our overhead gantry cranes in our Assembly, Integration and Test Hall.

The twin 3-axis cranes in our main AIT Hall are mounted on sliders so that they can be used pretty much anywhere in the main floor area. They have a lift capacity of 10 tonnes and 8 tonnes, and a 9.7m crane hook height. They can work independently, or together, and are precision-controlled using a handheld remote control. Operating them is a skilled job, requiring specialist training.

SSTL’s “smaller” small satellites, like the SSTL-100 and SSTL-150, are the size of a domestic washing machine and the process of constructing the satellite’s panel structure and integrating all the modules and instruments on-board takes place on a wheeled platform that allows the engineers to work on the spacecraft from every side. The overhead crane is usually only needed when the spacecraft is complete and needs to be lifted into its flight case for transportation to the launch site.

However, our larger platforms, like the SSTL-300 range, are the size of a family car and some of the assembly takes place on metal frames that allow us to tilt the satellite from vertical to horizontal and vice versa in order to access all the panels. The tilting manoeuvre is achieved using the overhead cranes, which allows us to precisely control the movement of our very delicate (and expensive) engineering.

Making final adjustments to the SSTL-300S1 spacecraft in the horizontal position before the crane hooks are attached

Space Blog was lucky enough to be present with a photographer on the day that one of the three SSTL-300S1 spacecraft, currently under construction in the Hall, was being precision-manoeuvred from a horizontal to a vertical position, and then transferred to a new static working jig.

The process took place over a period of approximately an hour and half – everything is done at a slow speed to ensure safety and accuracy. It’s a rather beautiful sequence to witness, and is staged and choreographed by a small team, one of whom controls the crane with a hand-held remote control. 

Attaching the crane hooks to the frame

Slowly does it

Final tiny adjustments are made to bring the spacecraft down onto the new frame in exactly the right position so that it can be safely secured

There are three SSTL-300S1 spacecraft currently under construction at SSTL The satellites will form a new imaging constellation, DMC3, and are due for launch next year.    





10 October 20140 Comments1 Comment

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