Science and Technology News

Monday, September 24, 2012

The New Plug-and-Play Mircosatellites



As Arnold Engineering Development Complex‘s (AEDC) project team recently celebrated Arnold’s Space Threat Assessment Testbed’s (STAT) successful initial site acceptance test, they also have another good reason to rejoice.

The STAT Facility also comes complete with a fully-instrumented, plug-and-play microsatellite available to use as a test article in the facility during the initial and final checkout for full mission readiness.

Nikki Tracey, AEDC’s Air Force STAT program manager, said to put the microsatellite into perspective, it is important to understand what the STAT facility is capable of accomplishing.


“STAT can simulate a realistic space environment to test space hardware, using multiple sources to create what a satellite is often subjected to in the orbits they frequently occupy,” she said.

Tracey has been particularly impressed with the team and the effort behind how they obtained and prepared the microsatellite for testing during STAT’s continuing workup to complete mission readiness.

“ATA members of the STAT project management team have built and developed a ‘CubeSat’ from Pumpkin, Inc.,” Tracey said. “It’s something many universities use for research and NASA and other space agencies use for both research and space missions due to the microsatellites’ size and relatively lower cost.”

Marc Smotherman, ATA’s task manager for the STAT’s chamber data acquisition and control system, said, “One of the requirements for the STAT facility was to install a government-furnished microsatellite in the STAT chamber during final system tests.

“The satellite earmarked for this effort became unavailable. The Air Force approached ATA for a solution. An ATA team composed of John Prebola, Carrie McInturff (ATA’s STAT project engineer and lead for the facility’s distributed mission operation system) and I developed requirements for the microsatellite.”

The main requirements were that all the microsatellite components had flown in space and that the instrumentation be included with the microsatellite so that it could measure certain environmental parameters it would encounter in the STAT chamber.

“Carrie and I developed a software and hardware design for the microsatellite that includes not only the microsatellite design,” Smotherman said, “but design of ground support systems to monitor the status of the microsatellite in the STAT chamber.”

The design drawings for the microsatellite and ground support hardware were given to Roger Johnson, an ATA instrumentation technician expert.

“His job, probably the most difficult of the entire effort, was to mount the various computer and instrument systems in the CubeSat frame and wire all the systems,” Smotherman said. “Since this is a ‘micro’ satellite, Roger had to use his special skills to fit all the components in the frame and route all cabling to the various components. And, all the while he was developing solutions to protect the various microsatellite components from the harsh environment of space. Roger delivered a flawless system that Carrie and I checked out.”

The microsatellite was installed in the STAT chamber in August during the STAT Initial Operating Capability test.


“While being subjected to the harsh environment of the STAT chamber, the microsatellite will also be transmitting telemetry data to a satellite operations center, as it would during a real space flight,” Smotherman said.

Johnson, who has been with AEDC since 1973, said building and wiring the satellite was a new experience – it was literally the first time he had ever tackled anything like it during his career.

“It was a challenge and I’m glad that I could offer my talents and that it worked out, but I’m not the only one here at AEDC who has these skills,” he said. “It felt good to have been a part of this.”

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