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Getting Your Payload to Orbit
by Staff Writers
Bethesda MD (SPX) Jan 13, 2015

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Launch vehicles and satellites are commonly built by different contractors in separate locations by two different talent pools. Satellite engineers and managers are not generally intimately familiar with launch vehicle design, manufacture and operations. Launch vehicle engineers and managers are not generally intimately familiar with satellite design, manufacture and operations.

At some point on the road to orbit a satellite must be placed on a space launch vehicle in order to achieve mission objectives. Therefore, there must be a mating process that is provided by expert systems engineers who specialize in payload/launch vehicle integration and processing. In fact, these engineers should be involved throughout the lifecycle of the satellite's development.

The process begins with requirements definition, hardware/software qualification, independent multi-discipline engineering analysis and operational support. Satellite manufacturers generally perform the requirement analysis, modeling and testing using appropriate standards in order to verify and define requirements that ensure compatibility between satellite and selected launch vehicle.

During vehicle processing, engineers evaluate results and anomalies, participate in root cause investigations and contribute to corrective action plans. These professionals also oversee and ensure environmental compatibility.

In addition, there are a variety of related tests, evaluations and data review activities that are ongoing in preparation for launch.

Satellite manufacturers are often asked to select and procure the launch vehicle for a given customer. Large spacecraft typically demand a dedicated launch vehicle or are designated as the prime payload on the vehicle. Payload integration processes are then focused on the prime payload. However, secondary payloads are becoming more common on large launch vehicles that have excess capacity.

In fact, there are several categories of small satellites that ride as secondary cargo or as part of a large number of small spacecraft. In support of this variety of space hardware, several companies have been organized to provide a number of services to small satellite builders and operators.

Such support companies have dedicated teams that manage the payload preparation and launch process. Part of the service is typically to assure that payloads meet certification requirements.

For example, one activity might be the conduct of a coupled loads analysis on secondary payloads that may be mated to special devices on the launch vehicle. Another activity may be securing proper licenses and permits.

Clearly, the integration and processing for all space-bound payloads must be undertaken by personnel who are properly trained and experienced.

For space professionals who are involved in such activities and want to learn more, Launchspace has a focused two-day course on Payload Integration and Processing that can be presented at your facility. Check it out.

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