5. What is the David Florida Laboratory?

[David Florida Laboratory]Before a satellite can be launched, it has to be tested to make sure that it can survive the shock of launch and the harsh conditions of space. At the Canadian David Florida Laboratory in Ottawa, delicate million-dollar precision satellite technology is shaken, spun, cooled, and heated, to test it under conditions similar to those it may encounter in space.

One test that satellites undergo is called "vibration testing". Expensive satellite equipment is shaken, tossed, and vibrated. The forces applied are as strong as if the satellite were riding a jackhammer. This is to make sure that the parts can withstand the jarring vibration and shock of a rocket or shuttle launch, and the noise and winds as it climbs. If even a bolt comes loose, it's back to the drawing board to make it stronger.

Another test is called "spin balancing". Satellites must keep their communication antennas perfectly still so that they can lock onto their target on Earth. One way of doing this is to spin while orbiting. If the satellite isn't balanced while it spins, it will begin to wobble and the antenna won't be able to lock onto its target. Even the touch of a ray of sunlight could throw a satellite off balance. Before launch, the David Florida Laboratory spins the satellite, adding weights to one side and then to another, making sure that the satellite remains perfectly balanced.

[Anechoic Chamber]Communications satellites are in orbit for the purpose of receiving and transmitting signals. At the David Florida Laboratory, the satellites are sent to an anechoic (echo free) chamber and tested to make sure that they are sending and receiving clear signals. This is called "radio frequency testing". The anechoic chambers duplicate the silence of space, where there is no medium (like air or water) through which the sound waves can travel. The walls of the anechoic chambers are made of carbon-compound pyramids which absorb all microwave and radio signals that hit them. In this chamber, scientists can be sure that every signal transmitted is from the satellite and not from a reflection; they can also be sure that the satellite is receiving only their signal and not an echo or a reflection of it.

[David Florida Laboratory]On Earth, we have an atmosphere to protect us from the heat of the sun and the cold of night. In space, however, satellites have no protection at all. Even if satellites only undergo one hour of night-time darkness, they still experience temperatures ranging from -195 degrees Celcius to +150 degrees Celcius. At the David Florida Laboratory, satellites are tested in a chamber which is the closest thing to space that can be created on Earth: the Thermal Vacuum Chamber. This chamber can simulate the temperature and vacuum of space to measure the cool-down and warm-up characteristics of a piece of hardware, and to predict how it might perform under the harsh conditions in space.

This Canadian laboratory is one of the best in the world for satellite testing. Not only are Canadian satellites tested there, many international satellites are tested there as well, including Brazil's satellite Brazilsat and the European Space Agency's satellite Olympus. The Canadarm was tested at the David Florida Lab as well.

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Produced by Galactics.
Comments: galactics@spacesim.org.
Last updated on: 8 August 1997.