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Surviving Orbit the DIY Way by Sandy Antunes

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Chapter 6. Launch Tests

Historically, a number of CubeSat and conventional satellites fail to reach orbit or fail upon arrival into orbit. The stresses of a rocket launch are the number one killer of satellites. Preparing for the initial launch and early operations phase of your mission is therefore the most critical in determining whether your mission succeeds.

However, rocket testing is harder than in-orbit testing. You can cook up a thermal vacuum chamber to test vacuum and temperature swings expected during the mission lifetime. It is harder to simulate a rocket launch. We will walk through some testing to prepare. The testing you need to do is primarily shake, rock, and roll.

Shake tests are vibration and acoustic testing to ensure your satellite can handle the rattle and hum of the rocket launch. Rock-and-roll testing is the centrifuge G-force testing to simulate your satellite being crushed by G-forces as the rocket barrels up in flight. A drop test neatly wraps up the set, simulating small, sharp movements during prep, launch, or in deployment. All three are ways your satellite can be battered about any of its axes.

Key to note is that, since picosatellites are often a secondary payload, you may not know which way will be up for your satellite launch. You cannot build assuming a specific orientation. Therefore, you need to test how your satellite survives G-forces along all directions.

At a recent nanosatellite conference, I asked whether NASA or other places could assist with ...

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