Surrey Blog

Taking the Strain out of Assembling a Satellite

How do you safely reposition a satellite? Delicately and slowly…

At Surrey, we’re world-renowned for manufacturing small satellites, but despite their small size they’re often too big to manhandle. That’s when we rely on our overhead gantry cranes, as demonstrated by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., (SSTL) in its Guildford-based Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) Hall.

The twin three-axis cranes in SSTL's main AIT Hall are mounted on sliders so that they can be used pretty much anywhere in the main floor area. They have a lift capacity of 10 tons and 8 tons and a 9.7 m crane hook height. They can work independently, or together, and are precision-controlled using a handheld remote control. Operating them is a skilled job, requiring specialist training.

Surrey’s “smaller” small satellites, like the SSTL-100 and SSTL-150, are the size of a dishwasher. The process of constructing the panels on these satellites and integrating all the modules and instruments on board takes place on a wheeled platform that allows the engineers to work on the spacecraft from every side. The overhead crane is usually only needed when the spacecraft is complete and needs to be lifted into its flight case for transportation to the launch site.

However, our larger platforms from the SSTL-300 range are the size of a mid-sized car. Some of the assembly for these platforms takes place on metal frames that allow us to tilt the satellite from vertical to horizontal and vice versa in order to access all the panels. The tilting maneuver is achieved using the overhead cranes, which allows us to precisely control the movement of our very delicate engineering.
Making final adjustments to the SSTL-300 S1 spacecraft in the horizontal position before the crane hooks are attached [Credit SSTL]
Space Blog was lucky enough to be present with a photographer on the day that one of three SSTL-300 S1 spacecraft, currently under construction in the Hall, was being precision-maneuvered from a horizontal to a vertical position, and then transferred to a new static working jig.

The process took place over a period of approximately an hour and a half – everything is done at a slow speed to ensure safety and accuracy. A small team stages and choreographs the sequence, as one of the team members controls the crane with a handheld remote control.

Attaching the crane hooks to the frame [credit SSTL]
[Credit SSTL]
Slowly does it [credit SSTL]
Final tiny adjustments are made to bring the spacecraft down onto the new frame in exactly the right position so that it can be safely secured [credit SSTL]
There are three SSTL-300 S1 spacecraft currently under construction at SSTL. The satellites will form a new imaging constellation called DMC3 and are scheduled to launch this year.


12 January 20150 Comments1 Comment

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