UTS Tech Lab has completed bespoke vibration testing, qualifying Space Machines Company ‘Optimus’ for launch.

UTS Tech Lab has a unique vibration test facility and it has just delivered one of its most challenging projects to date.

The Multi-Axial Simulation Table (MAST), or ‘shaker table’ as it’s commonly referred to, has successfully mimicked SpaceX launch conditions, inside the four walls of its Botany testing facility. This crucial test is part of a series ensuring that spacecraft can endure the demanding launch environment conditions and continue to function effectively to meet their mission objectives.

Australian high-tech start-up Space Machines Company (SMC) required the testing on its ‘Optimus’ spacecraft ahead of the SpaceX Rideshare launch in early 2024. Describing itself as “roadside assistance for space”, SMC provides orbital logistics and services to commercial and government customers.

Mark Ramsey, the company’s chief operating officer, says its plan is to create a more sustainable space industry and environment by inspecting, repairing, relocating, servicing, upgrading and disposing of spacecraft in space.

Optimus, the largest single satellite designed and built in Australia, is also the nation’s first Orbital Servicing Vehicle (OSV). SMC mechanical engineer Murali Shan says vibration testing was among SpaceX’s strict requirements to ensure the spacecraft can survive the “violent and mechanically stressing” rocket launch.

“If there was a failure it could result in part of the spacecraft breaking off and hitting another spacecraft within the Falcon 9 payload fairing, which could be catastrophic.” Shan says.

UTS School of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering Associate Professor Benjamin Halkon says “the mission critical challenge required collaboration with SMC to develop a completely bespoke solution, centred around the MAST”.

Using a complex arrangement of actuators, control, sensors, measurement and analysis, the MAST allows application of vibration in six degrees-of-freedom to simulate loads and motions experienced in real-world operational conditions. Commonly used in the transport, civil and electronics industries, the MAST replicates the vibrations of real-world environments within a controlled lab environment.

Halkon says “the MAST has the capacity to test payloads of up to two tonnes at 7 g acceleration. For this project it needed to deliver a 14.1 g acceleration on a 425 kg payload. This is one of the most technically challenging projects that we have yet been involved with on the MAST at UTS Tech Lab.”

Halkon says the UTS academic and technical team, in collaboration with SMC, used its “engineering judgement and decades of experience in this and other kinds of similar work to overcome any uncertainties to research, develop and execute the series of tests.”

The testing was a success and has contributed to qualifying the satellite for launch.

Image (L-R): Assoc Prof Ben Halkon, Peter Brown (UTS Senior Project Engineer) , Paul Hilton (SMC Mission Manager), Murali Shan (SMC Mechanical Engineer), Kenny Ng (SMC Manufacturing Engineer)

“Without this project, SMC would have likely had to undertake its testing outside of Australia, driving up costs and taking expertise offshore,” Ramsey says.

Shan describes the collaboration with UTS as “great at every level”. “Right from the planning to execution phase. The subject matter expertise they brought to the table was vital to how the tests were designed to meet the requirements. They helped design a safe and robust approach inclusive of de-risking phases which led to us gaining plenty of insights as we progressed.”

“I think the teams gained a lot of mutual respect out of the activity, and it was a textbook example of everyone bringing knowledge and expertise to the table to achieve a fantastic outcome. UTS Tech Lab’s strong engagement with industry and start-ups like us … their technical capabilities, industry thinking and flexibility … have contributed to a broad and enduring partnership.”

Ramsey says there will be “many” more space collaborations to come with UTS that are not yet public.

Optimus is set to launch on the SpaceX Smallsat Rideshare Program in early 2024 from a US launch site, carrying payloads from multiple US and Australian customers.