Weather Prediction Satellites and Vacuum Technology

Unless you are in the aerospace industry, you may not put any attention on the dependency of satellites and vacuum technology. Many space-level processes include vacuum leak detection, vacuum insulated containers, research experiments with vacuum chambers and space simulation chambers just to name a few.

GOES-S into TVAC

In March, 2017, GOES-S was placed in a thermal vacuum chamber to test its ability to function in the cold of space in its 22,3000 mile orbit above Earth. The chamber is located at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colorado. GOES-S waas in the thermal vacuum chamber for 45 days. Photo courtesy of NASA.Gov.

Space simulation chambers are used to test instruments in conditions here on earth that will approximate the conditions in space. Out of Earth’s atmosphere, the temperatures can go from extreme cold to hot.

Another important use of vacuum systems is to help “clean” materials and hardware by extracting compounds via vacuum outgassing. This is done so that the materials are not released in space where they may contaminate sensitive equipment.

Cooling a complex piece of equipment, such as the GOES-S satellite, in atmosphere will result in condensation and damage to the instrument. However a satellite must be tested prior to launching it into orbit. Placing the instrument in a vacuum chamber and cooling to cryogenic temperatures is a must. Components shrink as the assembly cool. Therefore it is important to verify that critical alignments can be kept and the mechanical hardware will function as intended.

The most complicated and challenging test are in thermal vacuum chamber where a satellite experiences four cycles of extreme cold to extreme heat. In order to simulate the environment of space, the chamber is cooled to below minus 100 degrees Celsius or minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit.

This test simulated the temperature changes GOES-S will encounter in space, as well as worst case scenarios of whether the instruments can come back to life in case of a shut down that exposes them to even colder temperatures.

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So the next time you look at a satellite weather image, you will know that it was made possible with the help of many vacuum engineers.

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