Like many things in life, success can often be boiled down to teamwork and careful planning. To that end, customer integration on the SSO-A mission is no different, but the scale of the mission has presented some unique challenges. Detailed below are some of the major tasks that Spaceflight performed to prepare for one of the most challenging spacecraft integrations ever undertaken, for our upcoming SSO-A mission.
Customer integration planning starts many months before with the customer providing an Integration Flow Plan. This package of information details the standalone operations, timeline, tooling, and consumables that the customer will require for the entirety of their standalone operations. The information provided by the cusotmer is evaluated by Spaceflight Assembly Integration &Test (AIT), Design, and Mission Management and acts as the basis for the next step in the integration process, fit-checks.
A fit-check is a process performed to simulate integration with the goal to ensure that there are no surprises during flight integration. For SSO-A, Spaceflight employed a combination of physical and digital fit-checks to evaluate customer’s spacecraft. Physical fit-checks are excellent for evaluating critical mating interfaces as well as assessing both the customer and Spaceflight’s integration procedures mesh well together. Digital fit-checks provide a feel for constraints between the customer’s spacecraft and adjacent customers that if unchecked may present access problems during RBF removal or adjacent mating operations.
With the fit-check complete, a master schedule combining Spaceflight operations as well as customer operations was assembled. The creation of the master schedule was challenging not only because of the large number of customers on this mission, 64+, but also due to the limited time that Spaceflight had to integrate all customers, 35 days. Further compounding the challenge was customer requests for a change in their integration dates or timelines. While on the surface these changes seemed small, due to resource and personnel constraints, they often had a ripple effect on upstream and downstream events for both Spaceflight and other customers.
One of the most technically challenging portions of the schedule was CubeSat integration at Spaceflight’s Auburn Integration Facility. In a total of two weeks, 50+ spacecraft were prepared and loaded into dispensers. To ensure that our facility and personnel were prepared to process such a large number of spacecraft, Spaceflight performed a rehearsal simulating the first day of integration from the time that customers arrive, through integration, to departure from the facility. Additional Spaceflight employees were assigned the roles of customers, and were provided spacecraft simulators, to make the rehearsal more like customer integration. At the end of the day all spacecraft were successfully integrated and all “customers” were extremely happy with their integration experience.
The Spaceflight team is now at Vandenberg Air Force Base where they are performing the final preparations for the mission.