Before a company can send anything into space — whether it’s launching a satellite or a rocket — it needs to ensure its technology can stand up to the extreme environment of outer space. The temperatures in space are extreme, with components potentially getting as cold as -150 C and as hot as 130 C, and the air pressure is nearly nonexistent. These conditions mean engineers need to conduct rigorous tests to ensure their spacecraft will perform as expected after it is launched.
I’m excited to share that Capella has taken a big step toward enabling our engineering team to conduct this testing process more efficiently: we have acquired a thermal vacuum (TVAC) chamber, which simulates environmental conditions of outer space. Our engineers will be able to test our satellites and all the constituent components inside the TVAC chamber to ensure they will function as we designed them to in space.
Every launch provider has strict requirements for pre-launch testing before anything can be sent to space, so it’s critical to have access to a testing chamber. Without our own TVAC chamber, we would need to rent one and reserve time in the chamber, as well as pay for a trained technician to support tests and to operate the chamber for, at times, 24 hours a day for days or even weeks. Most TVAC chambers are already configured from the previous test, and the ones available for rent are often booked up quickly, so finding one that meets your company’s needs, and configuring it after, could take months. Our new TVAC chamber is designed specifically for what we need it to do — it fits an entire satellite in a stowed integrated state, just as it will fly — so we’ll save valuable time and resources now that we have our own.
Christian Lenz, the VP of engineering at Capella, says, “Our new TVAC chamber marks a significant milestone toward our goal of deploying our constellation of satellites. In-house TVAC testing is critical to our success as we continue to move very fast and launch satellites in 2020 and beyond. There are limited TVAC testing resources for space flight hardware near our Colorado office, so acquiring a chamber increases our in-house capabilities and allows us to be independent of third-party testing providers.”
We purchased our TVAC chamber from a company in Virginia, and shipping it across the country — particularly during a pandemic — was no simple task. The chamber is enormous and weighs several tons. We had a wooden crate built to ship it in, but the crate was too tall to fit on a regular flat-bed truck without requiring special driving permits, so we had to find a special, low-to-the-ground truck to drive it to our office across the country.
Typically, before beginning the shipping process for a TVAC chamber, companies send some of their engineers to visit the TVAC provider’s facility so they can check out the chamber, make sure it works, and receive training on how to run it. However, because of the pandemic, we weren’t able to fly our team to Virginia. So our TVAC provider did its first-ever training over Zoom, and we learned how to operate our new chamber virtually. While of course, it would have been great to be trained on-site, the virtual format actually allowed more members of our engineering team to participate than we would have been able to fly out.
Having our own TVAC chamber is an exciting step for the Capella team that will help us to build, test and launch our constellation even faster. You can learn more about our vision and the satellites we’ll be deploying here.