Testing is a crucial part of space system development – without reliable testing, spacecraft would simply not fly. There have been many developments within the space industry that affect testing processes, such as the introduction of new materials through metal additive manufacturing, the arrival and increased implementation of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components and the commercialization of space in general.
The commercialization of space and the arrival of the New Space has meant that many organizations request more aggressive timelines for the development of space systems, reducing cost to the overall programme. Solutions to this include the integration of COTS components and new materials. This is driving innovation in testing solutions to meet these timelines as there was previously no need to test such components and materials as they were not used.
Aside from COTS components and new materials, there is a shift taking place in terms of space system design. The arrival of technologies such as smart and additive manufacturing (AM) is changing the approach to how spacecraft are engineered. Previously, components would consist of multiple parts all combined into a bigger one. AM allows for the development of complex structures, removing the need to attach multiple parts together.
Testing methods that have gained traction over recent years, and which are beneficial to some of those new spacecraft design and development approaches, include digital radiography and computed tomography (CT). CT generates thousands of images of the part that is being inspected, providing near real-time information on the quality of the component. This technology is used for the inspection of parts but can also be used to reverse engineer components.
Other innovations include developments within video processing, giving engineers insight in vibration testing analysis in near real-time on their own laptops. There also have been significant advances in near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, as ultra-high resolution instruments are now able to distinguish spectral features that could not be found previously – opening a door to improving the quality of data in fields such as material analysis.
The upcoming Space Tech Expo USA conference will put the above testing methods in a spotlight during the ‘Reducing Engineering and Manufacturing Processes Through Next-gen Testing and Analysis Techniques’ panel taking place on Friday October 8 at 11:45AM. Experts from RDI Technologies, Spectral Evolution, Zemarc Corporation and VJ Technologies will share their expertise and insights on topics and challenges including in-situ testing, data processing and analysis, and innovations in material and component testing capabilities and how to supplement existing methods with new techniques.