Facilities Available to the Small Satellite Program

SDL’s facilities—which include a state-of-the-art computing facility, a modern, comprehensive machine shop, class-100 clean rooms with full contamination control services, optical design laboratories, high-bay integration areas, environmental test facilities, NIST-qualified calibration and characterization facilities, a spacecraft command and control center, and laboratories for full optical, mechanical, and electrical system design and assembly—provide all of the capabilities necessary to design and fabricate custom systems in-house. This enables a high degree of flexibility to meet customers’ design needs while reducing system costs.

SDL’s large-scale THOR calibration facility’s test chamber includes LN2 shrouds, an optical table for sensor mounting, and supplemental helium cooling capability.

Twenty-four laboratory areas are dedicated for thermal analysis and modeling, and electronic, optical, and mechanical assembly and testing. The main SDL complex also houses a space simulation laboratory which has a small-satellite attitude control system test facility with a 3-axis instrumented bearing table and Sun (optical) and Earth (infrared) models.

A new facility at SDL, the Thermal Optical Research (THOR) infrared sensor chamber, is a large-scale calibration facility that features cryogenic capabilities and enables performance of thermal vacuum environmental testing and space simulation. The 8’ x 12’ chamber allows SDL to test and calibrate completely assembled systems such as small satellites and optical sensors.

Environmental Testing Facilities

SDL’s environmental testing equipment includes a state-of-the-art shake fixture assembly.

SDL’s 860 ft 2 environmental testing facility includes a 6,000 lb capacity vibration and shock table, a 2-ton crane, a dynamic spin balancing facility, and several cold-wall (LN2) thermal vacuum chambers for component testing, including a hard space vacuum. The SDL integration high bay supports the use of portable clean room tents and offers two 5-ton capacity cranes.

SDL’s RF-shielded semi-anechoic chamber is available for emissions and susceptibility (EMI/EMC) testing of various electronic hardware and instruments per the MIL-STD 461E standard. The chamber can be used for conducted emissions, conducted susceptibility, radiated emissions, and radiated susceptibility testing to the MIL-STD specifications.

Machine Shop

SDL’s in-house machine shop offers over 5000 ft 2 of modern fabrication equipment.

SDL’s comprehensive, 5000 ft 2 machine shop is equipped with a two-ton bridge crane and provides computer numeric control (CNC) machine capability, computer-aided precision machining (CAM), new state-of-the-art 3-dimensional milling machines and a crane-equipped indoor storage area. SDL carries a wide variety of materials in-house in order to meet immediate requests and tight schedules.

The SDL machine shop has two Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMM) that provide the ability to make precision measurements (<0.001") in three-dimensions of mechanical and optical assemblies. One CMM is located near the machine shop to allow critical dimensions of machined parts to be verified. The other CMM is housed in a class 100 cleanroom. It is used to do the initial positioning and alignment of optical components in mechanical structures. It can be used to measure the accumulation of tolerance errors (stackup errors) for systems as they are being built up.

Electronics Design, Modeling & Simulation

SDL offers state-of-the-art electronics fabrication facilities and highly trained staff.

Engineers at SDL have been building and modeling flight electronics since 1949. We are able to fully analyze analog and digital circuit designs, as well as perform Monte Carlo-type component tolerance effect analyses. SDL has successfully designed, modeled and built flight data compression encoder cards capable of transmission speeds in excess of 1 GHz in operational systems. Tools commonly used at SDL include Mentor Graphics Analog Simulator, Cadence PSPICE, Modelsim VHDL Simulator, Mentor Graphics IS Floorplanner for circuit board layout modeling and analysis, and FPA Simulator, an SDL product that creates a virtual focal plane array with hardware outputs.

Electronics Fabrication

SDL has performed space-qualified electronics design, fabrication, functional and environmental testing, and ground test equipment and software development for many projects including the Spatial IR Imaging Telescope (SPIRIT III), SABER and over 400 other programs.

NASA-certified, surface mount technology and vapor phase soldering facilities at SDL enable state-of-the-art design and production.

Composite Fabrication

SDL recently opened a composite manufacturing facility in conjunction with the Industrial Technology Department at Utah State University. This facility is capable of manufacturing composite parts to be used in flight programs. Development work is underway to utilize viscoelastic damping characteristics in composites at cryogenic temperatures.

This composites lab includes the capabilities to lay up parts of both a cylindrical and a flat nature, and the capability to machine the additional tooling necessary for more complex parts should cylinder or plate designs not be feasible. The lab’s facilities include a curing oven, a temperature and pressure controlled autoclave, and a clean area to lay-up composite parts to be used on programs that are contamination sensitive, and a finishing area where painting etc. can take place. Post-manufacturing capabilities include machining parts to meet specifications and a comprehensive testing facility for ultimate strengths, void content, shaker table, and thermal effects.

Clean Room Facilities and Contamination Control Capabilities

SDL has state-of-the-art capabilities for the design, fabrication, and validation of contamination-sensitive space hardware. Facilities include a precision cleaning laboratory, several class-100 cleanrooms, and a class-10,000 integration high bay with class 100 tents for payload integration. A 100 ft long optical cleanroom recently came on line in SDL’s Calibration and Optical Research Laboratory.

SDL has extensive experience in meeting the stringent contamination control requirements of cryogenic infrared telescopes that must maintain high stray light rejection performance. SDL also possesses the expertise to predict and validate optical scatter performance that can be degraded by particulate contamination. SDL developed and operates a dedicated off-axis scatter facility (the “Black Hole”) that is used to verify performance. A portable BRDF (Bi-directional Reflectance Distribution Function) measurement station is used to make field measurements of the primary mirror scatter on integrated telescopes. These measurements are used to ensure that the scatter produced by accumulated particulate contamination levels have not exceeded performance requirements. Particulate count and spectral reflectivity measurements on witness mirrors are also used.

SDL has multiple state-of-the art class-100 clean rooms for a variety of integration, calibration and test purposes.

SDL’s radiometric calibration group is also equipped to identify contamination-related anomalies during spectral responsivity calibration measurements of assembled sensors.

Sensor Calibration and Characterization

SDL calibrates and characterizes sensors developed both at SDL and out-of-house.

SDL has characterized the performance of instruments for such major programs as Infrared Background Signature Survey (IBSS), Cryogenic IR Radiance Instrumentation for Shuttle (CIRRIS 1A), Brilliant Eyes Proof-of-Principle (BEPoP), SPIRIT III, and Miniature Sensor Technology Integration (MSTI III). These calibrations extend to celestial IR sources and calibration sources contained within the instrument telescopes. SDL also has facilities to calibrate and characterize visible sensor systems.

SDL maintains a dedicated calibration staff to achieve continuity in this very specialized area and hosts an annual Infrared Calibration Symposium in cooperation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

SDL designed and developed three Multifunction Infrared Calibrators (MIC) and the associated cryogenic IR sensor calibration equipment. Each calibrator integrates several optical functions into a single, cryogenically cooled dewar that is coupled to the sensor’s front end. The calibrators provide steerable point sources and diffuse full-aperture illumination with selectable wavelength and intensity to simulate actual on-orbit measurement conditions. SDL’s calibration facility incorporates computer sampling and handling of large data sets from complex sensor arrays with their housekeeping data. In addition, SDL’s “Black Hole” black cleanroom facility is available for collecting low scatter measurements and was used to measure the off-axis rejection properties of JPL’s Cassini narrow field camera.

SDL has NIST traceable standard blackbody (radiation) that is used as a local reference for our other sources. Additionally, SDL has NIST traceable (temperature) extended blackbody sources ranging in size from 6” to 24” that have been tested from 20 K to 400 K, and a series of warm blackbody sources (290 K – 1200 K), which are also traceable to NIST.

Space Systems Analysis Laboratory

                                          Students using SSAL

Utah State University established the Space Systems Analysis Laboratory (SSAL), a state-of-the-art conceptual design center similar to design centers at government agencies such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center as well as the center at The Aerospace Corporation. Characterized by high levels of synergy, extensive interaction, and real time integrated efforts, SSAL has streamlined the process of space systems design, allowing for quicker end-to-end mission designs and feasibility studies that are both cheaper and of higher quality due to the more efficient use of personnel and technology resources. The core of the SSAL facility consists of nine PCs, connected together through a LAN and file sharing server, each one outfitted with a full set of tools for space systems design. Table 1 shows the tools used in the SSAL.

Table 1 : SSAL’s Space System Design Tools


Software Tools Used


Satellite Tool Kit (STK), Free Flyer


Solid Edge

Attitude Determination and Control


Thermal Analysis

Thermal Desktop, SindaFluint

Structural Analysis


Cost Analysis

Small Satellite Cost Model

Small Satellite Assembly Facility

                                  Assembly of USUsat II structure


- Copyright© 2005 Utah State University USU Nanosat Program
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