Things to Know when Launching Satellites with Batteries and Propulsion Systems 

Building and launching a spacecraft is no easy task. Most customers have a firm understanding of the major challenges, but we frequently offer our expertise on some of the less well known regulatory hurdles. This is particularly true when considering propulsion and batteries in the spacecraft. The sooner these are considered, preferably at the design stage, the smoother the process.

Photo credit: Phase Four

There are two situations that require customer consideration:

  1. Requirements for transporting the spacecraft to the launch site
  2. Meeting range requirements at the site

Most customers are so focused on the launch and space environment challenges, these are often overlooked. Batteries and propulsion systems are a few typical examples that bring this extra scrutiny because they are a potential hazards – both have stored energy that, if not handled properly, could be a safety threat. That is why detailed and specific regulations exist – to keep everything and everyone safe. Managing these complex rules is one of the areas of expertise our customers rely on.

Transporting to the Launch Site

Regulations that govern transportation to the launch site may be different for domestic and foreign customers, and different based on where the launch site is. The U.S. Department of Transportation has regulations regarding classification and transportation of hazardous materials, which can include propulsion systems and batteries for a spacecraft. There is a wide range of propellants used in satellites, including butane, water, hydrazine, xenon and HPGP (High Performance Green Propulsion). Some materials can’t be transported by private companies at all – If this is the case, the spacecraft must be fueled at the launch site which results in significant cost impacts to customers.

Foreign customers have separate regulations – the International Air Transit Association (IATA) has regulations and procedures to follow as well. Regardless of which governing body oversees transportation, officials are going to want to know similar things: what kind of system is onboard? What type and quantity of propellant? What type of pressure?

Range Requirements

Once at the launch site, there are additional requirements levied by range safety. For US based launches, these requirements are provided in AFSPCMAN 91-710 and unfortunately it’s a regulation that not all customers are familiar with. Every spacecraft delivered to the range and any procedures to be performed at the range must be entirely compliant with AFSPCMAN 91-710. The document is part of the Air Force Space Command Manual that governs all range safety and includes all precautions and procedures you must follow on site.

Waivers

Customers often ask about applying for waivers for either Department of Transportation regulations or to range safety requirements. Such waivers may be granted, but only if they can offer evidence of why a certain requirement is not applicable for their spacecraft. Sometimes there is an extensive history with the equipment in question or another test will be done that covers the concern. We don’t expect all our customers to know the minutiae of regulations – this is an area where they can rely on our expertise. In an ideal world, these things will be taken into consideration right from the very beginning, in a preliminary design review.

The requirements of transporting and preparing your satellite for launch on the launch site should drive design mandates…because the best satellite in the world is of no use if it can’t be brought to the launch site. However, even if you haven’t, it’s not too late. We can help you get that satellite to the launch pad and prepped for launch with all regulatory obstacles overcome. Any questions? Give us a call!

  • Tony
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