Testing for space

Tim Peake Mascot Illustration

Equipment must be sturdy to survive in space. Space is a harsh environment and equipment is often sent on a one-way trip. To ensure it survives (it’s tricky to repair anything once it’s up there), everything going into space is rigorously tested beforehand.

Shaken to destruction

Any object destined for space must get there on board a rocket. These enormous machines harness incredible energy, relying on one long controlled explosion to power them into space. One very notable feature of a launch are the vibrations of the engines passing through the rocket. These vibrations can have devastating effects on the rocket’s payload. All payloads must be subjected to extreme vibration testing before they go into space. This is to ensure that the payload survives, but is also not a risk to the entire rocket.

Vibration testing is one of the most feared processes in preparing for space. One of the biggest concerns is that your equipment could be shaken to the point of damage. If you look online, you can find videos of vibration tests on parts of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Acoustic testing

The noise level generated at launch can potentially damage the payload. Rocket launches can reach a volume about 20 times louder than a jackhammer, so engineers need to expose components of the launch vehicle and equipment to high-intensity noise before sending it into space.

Baked by the Sun

Generally, we consider space to be very cold. However, in direct sunlight, without an atmosphere to dissipate the heat, things can get very warm. Satellites around the Earth can reach temperatures of over 120oC when in direct sunlight.

To prepare satellites for these extreme conditions, any equipment destined for space is baked inside giant ovens. With components held at high temperatures for long periods of time, engineers can check how the pieces will perform and ensure no dangerous gases are given off.

Blasted by Radiation

On Earth, our atmosphere absorbs most of the harmful radiation from space. Any object heading out into space will be exposed to this radiation, which can have some troublesome effects on electronics. As the radiation interacts with the circuits, it can alter data, create inaccurate signal readings and destroy memory. Electrical components have to be protected against this radiation by ‘hardening’ prior to launch. There are several ways to harden electronics, often including some sort of insulation or shielding against the radiation