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 advice and direction from Jade Vande Kamp, the students ran an off-the-shelf spectrometer through a series of NASA-STD-7001B random vibration tests.
CubeSats are very small satellites, built to standard dimensions and launching as auxiliary payloads, essentially hitchhiking into space with something large and very expensive, like a telecommunications satellite, or fitting into some extra space on a resupply mission to the International Space Station.
WMU is participating in the University Nanosatellite Program, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, where teams from colleges across the country compete to have their experimental CubeSats included in a handful of actual launches. Western Aerospace Launch Initiative, or WALI, is a student-run WMU organization; it began with high-altitude balloon launches and has now progressed to the design of an advanced CubeSat focused on spacecraft propulsion system monitoring and analysis.
Using commercially available technology, like the tested spectrometer, is an effective approach to staying within tight budget constraints. The budget advantages are, however, meaningless without confidence that the off-the-shelf technology can survive a launch. Vibration testing is clearly required to establish mission viability, but it comes with its own risks. If the 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, 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 that 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.
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.