Satellites and Micro-Systems
As a mechanical design engineer, I have worked in private industry and for the federal government. My experience stretches from the large (satellite communication dishes the size of baseball diamonds) to the small (micro-electro-mechanical systems that can fit on the face of a penny). My responsibilities have spanned: novel concept brainstorming and development; hardware design and structural analysis; environmental testing; all the way to final unit level integration of hardware currently on orbit.
Unfurlable Mesh Space Reflectors (2007-2009)
The product line I worked on at my first job, Harris Corporation, was unfurlable mesh reflectors - i.e. communication dishes carried on satellites. Harris is the world leader in this field. The image above shows a mesh antenna (reflector dish) that I worked on inside a Harris facility. The reflector is comprised of hard structures (ribs) and soft structures (mesh surface & cords), like an umbrella. Similar to an umbrella, the reflector is folded up for launch, and must deploy out in space. The electromagnetically reflective surface is formed using hundreds of flexible cords which are attached to the hard structure, and tensioned to create the desired surface shape within a very tight tolerance. Much of my work focused on making sure this process happened correctly, which is important because after a reflector is folded up (aka stowed for launch), there is no more human interaction and we only have one shot at getting the deployment right on orbit.
The MSV-1 reflector antenna was launched into orbit in Nov 2010, in order to provide mobile phone and data connections for The Boeing Co. and Mobile Satellite Ventures (which has since changed names several times), and is currently on orbit over North America. At time of launch the 72-foot-diameter L-band reflector was the largest commercial antenna reflector ever flown in space, and was one of the last projects I worked on at Harris Corporation.
The satellite life cycle is interesting and goes something like this:
Once the reflector is successfully built, it is shipped to the customer.
At the customer's facility, the folded up reflector (center) is integrated with the rest of the satellite.
Next, the spacecraft is loaded into the fairing...
...and onto the Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral (20mi up the coast from Harris), where it's ready for launch!