Metrology systems to ensure satellites and other space exploration technologies are ready for launch and orbit
Once deployed, there is little opportunity for human intervention for maintenance or repair, so quality is paramount in satellite manufacturing.
By investing in the best combination of measuring systems and software, manufacturers can increase production speed while ensuring quality and accuracy.
The space satellite industry has traditionally been difficult to enter. It has predominantly consisted of large businesses and academic facilities carrying out large-scale, expensive research projects.
Today, there is a growing market for small, lower cost satellites for data collection and communication projects. This has created new opportunities for manufacturers to introduce commercialised production of satellite components.
Once deployed, there is little opportunity for human intervention for maintenance or repair, so quality is paramount. While on the ground manufacturers should incorporate more thorough quality control processes to improve the probability that the satellite will operate efficiently once in space.
Space satellites must also withstand the harsh conditions of a launch and tough environments once in orbit. Any minor faults, such as components that are not fastened properly or are not manufactured to exact specifications, will be amplified by the force of the launch preventing the satellite from working once in orbit. Accuracy is vital to ensure that these issues do not occur. Extensive testing in thermal chambers enables designers to replicate the space environment and understand how temperature will impact operations.
By investing in the right equipment quality control equipment, manufacturers can more confidently produce components for space satellite applications.
Space satellite manufacturing is governed by accuracy. Many satellites consist of multiple, separate panels that must be precisely aligned to operate effectively — any minor faults will distort the alignment of the equipment and therefore its performance.
Tightening tolerances can ensure that all parameters, such as weight and dimensions, are as accurate as possible. By choosing optical measurement tools, such as the Micro-Vu Optical CMMs that measure to the micrometre instead of the millimetre, engineers can ensure that parts fit the specified parameters within a very tight tolerance.
Satellites consist of four main systems:
Manufacturers must ensure that each part is produced accurately to ensure the satellite operates effectively once in orbit. Engineers should select metrology equipment based on the component. For example, the Micro-Vu range provides accurate 2D measurement of components such as circuit boards and for alignment of folding mechanisms, such as solar arrays.
Cylindrical parts, such as couplings, barrel hinges or joints, are often difficult to measure but must be precise to ensure they will fit into the rest of the satellite when it is assembled. If the two components are too loose they will move too much during the launch and if they are too tight, there is no give for the parts to complete their intended action. The Opticline range is built for extremely fast, full comprehensive and accurate measurement of cylindrical or shaft-type parts.
Manufacturers can also use optical measurement equipment to rapidly inspect complex parts made with delicate materials without touching the surface. For example, by inspecting solar panels with optical measurement systems offers high throughput inspection of parts that must be inspected with high accuracy, while ensuring that the equipment will not negatively impact the surface finish of the panel.
In a tiered supply chain involving multiple manufacturers, accuracy is particularly important. Every company must produce parts that meet the original, shared drawing so that the components fit seamlessly during assembly. Electronic quality management software (EQMS) can provide a reliable and secure way of sharing data across organisations.
By taking a digital approach, manufacturers can ensure that they work to the same design and all companies are immediately updated with any design changes. Companies can also invest in digital quality management software that collects data about part validation and enables seamless data sharing between organisations, improving accuracy when building the satellite.
By using High QA Inspection Manager, developers can automatically generate first article inspection (FAI) reports to verify the product’s design. The software can rapidly identify geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) from models, outline critical dimensions and input all the data from the ballooned drawing, populating a final report.
One of the most significant challenges that engineers must overcome when developing products for space is weight. In order to place satellites, probes, landers or spacecraft in orbit, developers must consider the high per kilogram cost required to break free of the earth’s gravitational pull.
By improving quality control processes and tightening tolerances, engineers can reduce the uncertainty of dimensional accuracy. This will remove any unnecessary material on each component, reducing the overall mass of the satellite before it is sent into orbit.
When demand grows, manufacturers are required to rapidly scale up component production. This task is more challenging in space applications where all parts must be duplicated to build redundant systems in the satellite.
To effectively meet rising demand, manufacturers may want to look at ways that they can lower costs and increase production speed while ensuring performance and accuracy.
Metrology suppliers can suggest the best combination of measuring systems and software, so manufacturers can rapidly and accurately measure parts during batch testing. Involving metrology specialists early in the design process helps manufacturers understand where they can make performance improvements from the outset.