Mega-Test for Micro-Satellite

Jonathan Newell finds out how low cost modular cubesats measure up to the harsh conditions of being launched into orbit.


pace is becoming more accessible as an environment not only for observing, measuring and communicating, but also for testing. Questions relating to how a product will perform at low temperatures,

in a vacuum, at low gravity or at high altitude can be answered individually or in combination by sending the product to space and trying it out. To satisfy this hunger for extreme environmental

testing, “cubesat” producers are creating low-cost, re-usable modular platforms on which experiments can be placed. Sharing one platform with other users reduces the cost for everyone and brings space within budget for smaller companies that would earlier have never considered it. One such platform is the S-CLASS from York Space Systems. Described by the company as having been designed to “reduce the cost of manufacture by an order of magnitude”, the S-CLASS is a 3-axis stabilised spacecraft capable of supporting 85kg payloads with up to 100W of Orbit Average Power (OAP). Designed for mass manufacture, the space vehicle supports a wide range of missions including earth observation, weather and communications. It can make use of ride-share opportunities on ESPAs or can be adapted to any of the numerous dedicated small launch vehicles currently under development.

LOW COST FLEXIBILITY The fundamental premise behind the S-CLASS is the delivery of flexibility at the lowest cost possible so that the platform is used for different purposes by a variety of users. The platform can even be used in different orbit inclinations or orientations enabling polar orbits, surveillance missions over the equator or even geosynchronous orbits. According to York’s executive chairman, Charles Beames, billion-dollar satellites aren’t needed for every mission and companies are paying too much money for the capabilities that they need. “Our spacecraft are designed to fly on any launch vehicle, they’re very robust and can handle the roughest of launches including solid rocket, liquid rocket, air-launch or rideshare,” he says.

❱ ❱ Vibration testing was one of the

environmental tests used for the assessment

of the suitability of the low cost

S-CLASS satellite platform for launch

Space launches are punishing environments for

any product to survive and so such claims for a low-cost product need backing up with verification through testing.

PUTTING THE S-CLASS TO THE TEST Denver, Colorado based York Space Systems is a young company and is still at that precariously early stage of its growth cycle. As such, it’s understandably cagey about revealing test results, launch dates or the customers it’s preparing to launch for. However, the company is certainly making

preparations at a fast pace and these include the kind of extensive environmental testing required to deliver against claims about the robustness of the vehicle and to prepare for a launch in the near future. The S-CLASS recently finished such environmental

testing including electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), three axis random vibration and thermal vacuum testing to simulate space. According to the company’s CEO, Dirk Wallinger in a recent interview for the press, S-CLASS didn’t have any failures. “We put it through torture and we’re very happy about how the platform performed during the testing,” he says.

Emerging from such harsh environmental testing with a low-cost re-usable small space vehicle that’s still functional is a milestone achievement for York Space Systems since launch survival is one of the most challenging aspects of providing a reliable and repeatable “Pay-As-You-Go” space platform service.

Climatic & Vibration Testing Vol 2 No. 1 /// 19

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