As an engineer, no days at Spaceflight are ever dull. We’re involved in every part of the company’s services, from determining a spacecraft’s ideal launch to actually integrating that spacecraft onto the launch vehicle. Engineers are involved in the process from the moment a spacecraft developer contacts Spaceflight about potential launches. In this example of a microsatellite customer, Spaceflight mission managers (engineers) assist the spacecraft through every part of the launch process.
Say a microsatellite customer wants to go to a sun-synchronous circular orbit with an altitude of 750 km. Initially, the business guys will take a crack at finding a launch, combing our long launch list for potential matches. However, sometimes there are no launches that match the requested orbit, so the engineers are called! As mission managers, we calculate the delta-V required to get spacecraft to their optimal orbit. If the spacecraft has no propulsion, we figure out if our SHERPA vehicle can get them to where they want to go with its thrust capabilities. Together, business and engineering determine a good potential launch vehicle and if a propulsive SHERPA is needed.
Finding this potential launch vehicle is only the beginning; now we have to determine if the spacecraft can fit in the fairing. In SolidWorks, we’ve created mock-ups of many rocket fairings. So, using the software, we take the rocket fairing and arrange spacecraft around our SHERPA ring, determining where the bigger spacecraft should go and what adapter they should use. All we need from the microsatellite customer is the mass and volume. If this example spacecraft is a 285 kg and a 1 meter cube, we directly integrate them to the SHERPA port. We slide them in the slot and see if the other spacecraft can fit around them. This step is a volume and mass analysis that helps us determine if the launch is even possible for our example microsatellite customer.
After a vehicle is selected (and we verify that everything will fit properly), the engineers start the more official mission management role. This involves guiding the launch campaign, creating requirement documents, interfacing with the launch vehicle provider, and getting the spacecraft into orbit. In the case of the example microsatellite customer, we create an interface control document and support the development of other technical documents. During this time, we also provide engineering expertise and assist with troubleshooting problems. Then at 8 weeks prior to launch, we receive the satellite at our facility, integrate it to our SHERPA ring and hand it over to the launch provider. The mission management process for each satellite can be radically different, so a future “Life at Spaceflight” blog will delve further into the topic.
Engineers are involved in every aspect of Spaceflight’s customer services. We do what we can – check ground station passes, calculate orbital maneuvers, schedule integration meetings – to get a spacecraft to exactly where it wants to go.