Using Sensors for Commercial Space Missions

An integral part of launch vehicles, payloads and support systems, sensors and accessories provide significant information to controllers and computers during preparation and flight, such as real-time monitoring and control of the vehicle. The major areas of sensors include research & development (R&D), testing, manufacturing, avionics and propulsion systems.

Propulsion systems include any system that offers thrust to the launch vehicle, mainly the fuel and engine tanks. The sensors integrated in these systems control parameters such as vibration, temperature, pressure, flow and load to ensure efficient vehicle operation and the health and safety of the crew. During pre-launch certification, manufacturers in the commercial space industry depend on OMEGA’s mineral-insulated thermocouples in order to determine whether propulsion systems can provide the thrust required for launch and can bear the rigors of flight. Sensors mounted on the vehicles also provide the thermal response and high accuracy required to evaluate the performance of an engine.

Satellites, rockets and aircraft use avionics, which are electrical systems designed to carry out functions such as navigation and communication. In addition to receiving significant in-flight information from sensors, avionics also provide feedback to the computers and other systems that control payload and rocket operations. Temperature labels and thermocouples from OMEGA are extensively used in the laboratory to ensure proper function of the avionics systems when exposed to flight conditions.

R&D, test, and manufacturing facilities test the durability of components when subjected to the rigorous environment of space. Satellites, engines, electronics and other components of space vehicles are exposed to stresses that outnumber those in a majority of other industrial processes. Therefore, the manufacturing process for these components must meet rigorous process-control requirements and this is followed by comprehensive testing, during which systems and their components are subjected to extreme heat, mechanical loads and vibration in order to ensure that they work as anticipated. Fuel tanks, for instance, should be able to bear the high pressures produced by cryogenic liquids.

Problem

The conventional approach to manufacturing these sensors has been to design and test them for a particular application. Nevertheless, the components have to be produced at a lower cost with shorter timelines in order to meet the demands of today’s commercial space market. When possible, off-the-shelf sensors must meet those requirements, so that custom sensors or those with unique configurations are only employed in specific applications and when absolutely necessary.

This requirement recently created a problem for an aerospace customer. They were purchasing and assembling off-the-shelf resistance temperature detectors (RTDs) into a mechanical housing that was custom designed to suit this purpose. Unfortunately, a large percentage of these RTDs did not perform as expected once assembled into the housing. The customer was not able to determine the cause and required a solution that would ideally allow them to continue using standard products.

Solution

OMEGA’s technical specialists determined that the high failure rate of the RTD assemblies was because of the way in which they were tested and assembled at the client facility. A fully assembled solution that integrated off-the-shelf OMEGA sensors was recommended by OMEGA. Currently, OMEGA manufactures the custom housing itself based on samples and drawings of the client’s components and then assembles a standard OMEGA probe into the housing and exposes the unit to the same stringent inspection and testing procedures that are applied to all OMEGA products before shipment.

Results

The yield at the customer site increased to 100%. OMEGA’s customers now have the confidence to install OMEGA’s turnkey solution without the need for any additional testing.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by OMEGA Engineering Ltd.

For more information on this source, please visit OMEGA Engineering Ltd.

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