NASA’s First Attempt At Building Four Spacecraft for One Mission

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This article was first published on NASA by Karen C. Fox

 

Before installation of the instruments and spacecraft components to their respective decks, the spacecraft structure is assembled for an initial alignment test to make sure everything fits together correctly. The top deck will ultimately support the instruments, the bottom deck will support the spacecraft components, and the black tube in the middle is the thrust tube, which houses the propulsion system and fuel tank. The alignment testing tools can be seen to the right and left.
Before installation of the instruments and spacecraft components to their respective decks, the spacecraft structure is assembled for an initial alignment test to make sure everything fits together correctly. The top deck will ultimately support the instruments, the bottom deck will support the spacecraft components, and the black tube in the middle is the thrust tube, which houses the propulsion system and fuel tank. The alignment testing tools can be seen to the right and left.

An unprecedented mission is currently being built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The center is simultaneously building four nearly identical spacecraft for the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission scheduled to launch in late 2014. Building four spacecraft at the same time – something that has never before been done at Goddard — requires a unique set of engineering, management and production skills. To streamline the assembly process, the MMS team developed a simple architecture where all of the spacecraft components are mounted on a single deck and all the instruments are mounted to a separate deck. The two decks are attached to a common center structure known as the thrust tube. This allows the spacecraft and the suite of instruments to be separately integrated and tested in parallel prior to the final assembly of each MMS observatory. Lessons learned in the integration of the first spacecraft have significantly reduced the time required to integrate the other 3 spacecraft.

MMS will study how the sun and Earth’s magnetic fields connect and disconnect, explosively transferring energy while doing so. This process is known as magnetic reconnection and it occurs throughout the universe, powering such events as the aurora or gigantic eruptions on the sun such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

Engineers integrated the first observatory in August 2012. The second was completed in December. Follow the images to see how an MMS spacecraft gets built.

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