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Testing M6P Nano-Satellites – Qualification and Acceptance Programs
Behind the Scenes
  • 2018-12-07

Space is harsh and only the toughest technology can survive the extreme temperatures, intense radiation and deep vacuum of outer space. NanoAvionics conducts a full suite of environmental tests to ensure M6P nano-satellites, and the payloads they carry, can withstand these conditions. We simulate the harsh conditions of outer space here on Earth to help our clients revise their payload designs and to prove that their M6P nanosatellites are ready for launch and performing their missions.

NanoAvionics’ testing regime creates conditions even more extreme than what the nanosatellite will actually experience in orbit. These environmental tests include:

  • Thermal-vacuum Cycling: This 5-day test subjects the subsystems and the fully-integrated satellite to a hard vacuum while temperatures swing from -20C to +50C.
  • Thermal-vacuum Bakeout: Additional time in a thermal-vacuum chamber bakes out volatiles that could contaminate sensors once in orbit.
  • Electromagnetic Testing: We identify any sources of EM interference that could compromise launch safety or satellite operations. We also test each subsystem’s resistance to EM interference.
  • Radiation-pattern Testing: We measure the radiation pattern of the M6P’s fully-deployed antenna in an isolated environment to ensure solid orbit-to-ground communications.
  • Radiation Testing: We simulate a 5-year mission worst case scenario by exposing the M6P’s subsystems to a Cobalt-60 radiation source to be confident that the bus will survive the radiation environment in LEO for more years than any nanosatellite mission requires.

We also shake the M6P to its core. Hitting the nanosatellite with shocks and random vibrations as well as tooth-rattling harmonics reproduces the extreme stress of a rocket launch from ignition through the nanosatellite’s release into orbit. This acceptance testing lets us assure the launch provider that the M6P will not compromise the safety of their rocket. It also gives our clients confidence that their payload will survive the ride.

NanoAvionics conducts these tests in-house and at accredited facilities to meet the exacting requirements of NASA’s General Environmental Verification Standard (GEVS) (for subsystems only) as well as the specific acceptance standards set by the launch provider (for the whole bus level). But completing these tests only gets the M6P halfway through the process. We conduct another complete round of functional testing to document the before-and-after performance of each subsystem as well as the fully-integrated spacecraft.

Finally, we conduct full-up simulations of our client’s mission in a cleanroom environment. These mission sequence tests are about performing all the satellite’s activities – from A to Z – after the deployment into orbit: from antenna deployment and subsystems actuation to mission-specific tasking. Also, we check communication modules with long-range testing of S-band and UHF communications with a ground station to simulate the early orbit phase (LEOP). Throughout this process, NanoAvionics’ clients can participate remotely by using a pre-defined set of commands. This gives clients a chance to test their payload as well as their payload controllers’ operations procedures before launch.

Space may be harsh, but that is why NanoAvionics pushes each M6P nanosatellite even further to support our clients’ mission success.

Have a sneak-peak into some of the M6P thermal-vacuum testing moments at our partners’ Tartu Observatorium.