Satellite Shakes

photo by Autumn Snake
photo by Autumn Snake

Imagine a fragile insect in its cocoon . . . attached to a rocket ship. The rocket ignites and thrusts its way to the outer hemispheres. Will the insect withstand the violent vibrations of its voyage and remain fully intact, succeeding to unfold its wings and fly upon arrival?

Satellites are like fragile insects catapulted into space. Yet each one costs over one million dollars to make.

Gulp.

You better not mess up when you design your satellite, and you better make sure it’s able to function when it gets to its work-space.

Who knew that as I was nibbling on my parmesan lollypop at Dassault Systèmes’ Partner Summit an hour ago I’d stumble into this sort of conversation?

Actually the satellite example is accessory, because what I was really talking about with Jan and Nick from LMS is virtual labs and realistic simulation.

But before you read further, I thought you’d like to watch a real video about satellite launching to get in the mood:

We talk a lot about real and immersive virtuality, virtual labs, etc. And sometimes I hear people pondering the day when we can eliminate physical tests altogether.

But Jan and Nick pointed out are few things I think are pretty smart:

  1. When it comes to true innovations, things that have never been invented before, you can’t test them virtually until you’ve physically tested them. How can you integrate the physics of your invention if you’re not sure what they are? We don’t know the alpha and omega to Physics after all.
  2. Virtual testing is raising the bar for physical testing and shaping real-life testing as a whole.

Back to our fragile satellite and violently vibrating rocket example. Jan and Nick used the satellite shake test as an example to illustrate point number two.

Now you’ve got this real satellite, one that’s cost you over a million dollars to make, and you’ve got to shake it to death, so to speak. What if you could “shake it to death” without damaging or killing it?

Ah ha!

To accomplish this, you must carefully engineer your shake test. And the way to do this is to simulate your shake test with realistic simulation. The simulated shake test will help you better define and test the real thing, figure out the safest spots to place test instruments so they won’t damage the satellite during the test action, etc.

And, you can also imagine that with the knowledge gained from the virtual shake test, if done early enough, you could go back to the virtual drawing board and tweak the actual satellite design to give it a better chance of catapultion survival. (I occasionally make up words; hey, language evolves.)

So folks, this is what has jazzed me the most about the Partner Summit so far. Conversations about cool stuff with interesting people. It’s all about people.

Best,

Kate

P.S. Nick kindly gave me this avi of his technology in-action during a simulation satellite shake test.

  • Jovan

    Home at 1:00 🙂

    I grew up with rockets in the sky… I think this is one of those industry where failure is forbidden. The virtualization of the risk is then very important!

    Look at what happened with Herschel (http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Herschel/index.html). The satelite broke during the vibration tests –> read (in french) http://www.rue89.com/2009/05/14/des-etoiles-et-des-hommes-les-coulisses-du-succes-dariane

  • Yikes! Must be a very bad feeling when you hear the engine crack during the shake test.

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