Are your springs ‘space-worthy’ ?

by | 5 Dec 2023

It is no secret that doing anything in space is difficult. In fact, outside of Earth’s atmosphere lies the most hostile environment humanity has ever faced and this will be a difficult fact to forget as we return to the moon in the coming years. The vacuum of space is not only hazardous for humans but is also extremely tough on machinery and the parts that make up said machines. Take for example the Solar Orbiter, on which Springco parts have been dutifully performing since the project launched in February 2020. In order to fully comprehend what it means to be ‘space worthy’, imagine you are a single spring responsible for deploying scientific instruments to image the sun, 300 million kilometres away.

The ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter approaching the sun- via ESA

Pre-loading

Your journey begins months if not years before you are even launched into space. Following a rigorous design, manufacture, and testing regime, you are loaded into your subassembly and placed under tension for the foreseeable future. Depending on how international your project is, you might have to wait long periods of time in this tensioned position. The Solar Orbiter is a joint project between NASA and ESA and was manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space, a multinational prime contractor. All of these stakeholders make for a long development cycle, Solar Orbiter was delayed for launch by nearly 3 years, throughout which you are coiled and ready to deploy.

Solar Orbiter being inspected at Airbus Defence and Space – via ESA

Launch

Being launched on a rocket is one of the most intense moments anyone could experience, just ask the brave few astronauts who have. You are essentially riding a carefully controlled bomb. During your explosive ascent on an Atlas V, a rocket built by United Launch Alliance, you will experience up to 5 G’s (5 times the acceleration due to gravity), undergo severe vibrations in all directions and get battered with violent sound waves which will try to tear you and the rest of your mission apart. After nearly an hour of these forces, you finally arrive in space and the real struggle can finally begin.

Solar Orbiter launching on an Atlas V rocket by ULA  – via ESA

Transit

Congratulations, you’ve made it this far. Now that you are free from the Earth’s atmosphere get ready to experience some the most extreme temperatures known to mankind. Typically temperatures out of the sun can get as low as -150 °C however on top of this, being a solar probe, you will have to withstand up to 500°C. As well as this, there are the adverse effects of being in a vacuum such as outgassing, a phenomenon where gas which was dissolved in metals gets released and can wreak havoc on electronic or other high precision equipment. The absence of atmosphere also has its own challenges in terms of radiation penetrating your spacecraft and dust particles no longer burning up before impact.

Solar Orbiter on it’s fly-by of Venus towards the Sun – via ESA

Deployment

Should you survive the 2 year trip across our solar system spanning 300 million kilometres, now is your big moment. A mission which was nearly a decade in the making and involved contributions from several countries and hundreds if not thousands of people is now relying on you. After experiencing all the punishment up until this point, can you successfully perform your function perfectly and deploy the instruments which will take the closest pictures humanity has ever take of the sun? If you can, that is what it means to be ‘space worthy’, and these are the type of springs that Springco has manufactured for use in space for decades. ‘Space worthy’ is a badge of honour which means that you can overcome the toughest obstacles, you have succeeded in the most challenging circumstances and can continue to do so in any other scenario.