Article written by Mrs. Sara Black and republished from www.compositesworld.com/blog
Satellites are built with a great loot of specifications using different specialized materials which all costs a large sum of money. Before the launching experience which includes the rigors of the environment, vibrations due to speed, etc. it has to be transported safely to the launch site. The Orbital ATK of U.S called upon a company the PEI (Pagnotta Engineering Inc.) to design a huge shipping container to safely ship their bus structure of GEOStar-3 geosynchronous satellite to the launch location, for example from Dulles to French Guiana.
The task was not an easy one as the spacecraft was of 3.9m by 2.1m x 2.3m dimensions and weighed about 3,136 kg. as for the container, it had to fit through all the access doors of Orbital ATK, reliable & strong with lifting facility, can be transported by truck and other heavy transports and the most important of all should easily fit inside an Antonov 124-100 aircraft. PEI successfully built a solution which includes a strong steel base frame and an upper & lower composite lid. The design was developed in Pro/E CREO CAD software and using FEMAP and NX/NASTRAN for FEA (Finite Element Analysis) analysis to provide the overall structural verification and other details.
The best choice for the lid was composites, as they offered to be airtight, weatherproof, durable and strong with minimal joints and high thermal value. The composite has layer type construction with a mat of chopped E-glass, biaxial fabrics, Vectorply composites, ValuTex reinforcements and much more. The upper and lower composite lids were fabricated by the Ershigs.
The lower lid which cannot be moved and with a dimension of 7.7m long by 4.7m wide by 1.08m high was attached to the base frame directly. The similar upper lid which is 2.8 m high was attached to the lower with multiple latches (quick release type) and had casters mounted on its lower edge for easy movement when detached. A door was given on the upper lid for accessing the interior and lot of ancillary equipment which includes generator, AC unit, electrical connections, nitrogen gas connections and much more. There are also duct holes and multiple access panels on the lower lid which provides access to many systems in the interior. And other features inside are, a big spacecraft turn-over, frame and handling fixture to hold the satellite in place while transporting.
Till now the shipping container has been used more than two times for transporting spacecraft and will be used again if needed.