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WMU Students Visit for CubeSat Testing

Shakers, Vibration Control

A team of Western Michigan University (WMU) students recently visited VR to run a set of vibration tests as part of their CubeSat project. With direction from Jade Vande Kamp—Vibration Research’s Training & Education Manager—the students ran an off-the-shelf spectrometer through a series of NASA-STD-7001B random vibration tests.

Inserting the spectrometer into a student-designed and milled test fixture

Inserting the spectrometer into a student-designed and milled test fixture.

CubeSats are small satellites built to standard dimensions and launched as auxiliary payloads. Essentially, they hitchhike into space with something large and expensive, like a telecommunications satellite, or fit into extra space on a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Western Aerospace Launch Initiative

WMU is participating in the University Nanosatellite Program sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory. Teams from universities across the United States will compete to have their experimental CubeSats included in several real launches.

Western Aerospace Launch Initiative, or WALI, is a student-run WMU organization; it began with high-altitude balloon launches and has progressed to the design of an advanced CubeSat focused on spacecraft propulsion system monitoring and analysis.

Spectrometer in the fixture, ready for a test

The spectrometer in the fixture, ready for testing.

Using commercially available technology like the tested spectrometer is an effective approach to staying within tight budget constraints. However, the budget advantages are meaningless without confidence that the off-the-shelf technology can survive a launch. Vibration testing is required to establish mission viability, but it comes with risks. If testing breaks a selected commercial device, there are budget and schedule impacts a university program can ill afford.

Fortunately, the spectrometer continued to function properly after the tests, which was an important step for the WALI project.

Beyond testing success, the day at VR was also about hands-on education. The students used VibrationVIEW to input the NASA standard test profile, control tests along all three axes to meet the profile, collect the test results, and generate test reports. They also monitored the spectrometer’s functionality after each axis test, using light sources with precise frequency outputs and comparing the spectrometer’s measurements with pre-vibration test readings.

Spectrometer measuring light from a precise frequency source

The spectrometer measuring light from a precise frequency source.

Everyone at VR was impressed with the WMU team: their technical competence, preparation, and enthusiasm. We look forward to assisting them again in the future as the WALI CubeSat project moves forward.

Full CubeSat Paper


October 24, 2019


Thomas Roberts


Shakers, Vibration Control

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