Spring 2008 Issue

Spacecraft Integration Lab

Thanks to HISS and its affiliation with UMES, AMSAT’s Spacecraft Integration Lab has a new location in Pocomoke City, Maryland. Here is the story of the new facility.

By Robert Davis, KF4KSS, and J. C. Taylor, W3JCT


AMSAT lab equipment now in Pocomoke City, Maryland, as of January 2007. (All photos courtesy of Bob, KF4KSS, unless otherwise noted)

In mid-2006, I (Bob, KF4KSS) asked my boss at the Hawk Institute for Space Sciences if he’d like to do anything with AMSAT. Much to my pleasure, he said, “Sure. What can we do?” Well, that response didn’t fall on deaf ears!

The Hawk Institute for Space Sciences (HISS) is affiliated with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). In the latter half of 2006, there were multiple phone calls and meetings between AMSAT and HISS, and between AMSAT and UMES. This resulted in several positive outcomes: AMSAT signed a Memorandum of Understanding separately with HISS and UMES, HISS offered free space for the AMSAT Spacecraft Integration Lab, AMSAT offered “seconds” of unused equipment to HISS, and UMES agreed to help AMSAT with education outreach.

By the holidays of 2006 I was in Orlando, Florida loading the contents of the famed AMSAT Orlando Spacecraft Integration Lab into rental trucks. The lab had been moved a couple of times (eventually into storage) after building damage from multiple hurricanes since its AO-40 heyday. Lou McFadin, W5DID, and Stan Wood, WA4NFY, brought us into the storage unit and helped sort and load the equipment into the trucks. Bob McGwier, N4HY, Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, and I drove the trucks back up the east coast to Pocomoke City, Maryland.

Waiting for us at HISS (to help unload trucks) were Rick Hambly, W2GPS; Rob Renoud, K3RWR; Brian Gaffney, K3PU; Paul Shuch, N6TX; Dan Schultz, N8FGV; and many more ham radio volunteers and some HISS heavy-lifters (and a forklift operator).

Since then, volunteers have spent a year working to make the new AMSAT Spacecraft Integration Lab in Pocomoke City, Maryland operational.

The biggest effort over the last year was the cleanroom. It came to us quite dirty and disassembled. After much cleaning, then sorting out the order of assembly, we brought in some forklift help and got to work. Before I gloss over any of the hard work of Saturday volunteers, I must reiterate that we cleaned … then stripped, scraped, sanded, welded, riveted, drilled, bolted, lifted, cleaned, primed, and finally painted the cleanroom. The emphasis is important!

As soon as the paint was dry (well, not dripping), we installed the 1/4-inch thick, clear-plastic sheets that created the walls of the cleanroom. They are made out of special material that is static-dissipative, so it’s safe to have around sensitive electronics. Then we installed HEPA filters in the ceiling. These filters are remarkably efficient and allow us to work on satellite parts with much less concern about contamination from typical sources such as dust (and us, as long as we wear the proper garments).

The cleanroom is now a gleaming 20 feet by 20 feet with 8-foot ceilings. It’s ready to support our spacecraft integration activities, such as prepping the SuitSat-2 solar panels, Eagle, and the potential rideshare opportunity with Intelsat.

Sitting next to the cleanroom is a flow bench. This can be used to work on small projects that should be clean but just aren’t big enough to warrant entering the cleanroom. It is also used as a station to clean parts that will be passed into the cleanroom.

Behind the flow bench is an ante-room. This is where we “gown” for entry into the cleanroom.

Next to the cleanroom is the ground station. All the radios are lined up, but we haven’t raised the tower with antennas yet. Talk about burning a hole in your pocket!

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