Engine Test Stand

Over the past few days we have been putting together a new, larger test stand in anticipation of a firing of the Trailblazer main engine in the near future. It has been designed for liquid methane fuel and liquid oxygen propellants. When completed, it will support engines with thrusts up to 6kN.

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Meanwhile a test fire rehearsal was successfully conducted at our Florida facility using a modified stand and the subscale test engine. The performance of the control systems and the pressure feed were verified.

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Realizing commercially viable optical communications in the short term

Today we achieved the first stable link through our new, high powered LED transmitter. This was not without many struggles and design challenges, but the concept is one step closer to maturity.

A number of new things have been going on in the optical communication test program. We now have dedicated labor for the development of the flight hardware and software, and a miniaturized version of transmitter is under the final stages of design review before manufacturing. The aim is to produce a viable, monolithic VLC downlink module by the start of October that can be mounted on Cubesats with minimal modification or ADCS requirement.

Concurrently, the development of the solar-panel based omnidirectional uplink has been progressing at a steady pace. A long distance test is scheduled soon, and it is expected that all our future solar panel products will support this uplink feature, optional with the purchase of our EPS modules.

 

Subscale Test Engines (Part II)

One of the first test engines has been assembled today and is being tested before a hot fire. In this process we've been learning a lot about designing for manufacturability and cost with larger, future propulsion systems in mind.

Checking the injector plate and chamber seals before installation

Checking the injector plate and chamber seals before installation

One of our main concerns was with the high temperature seals between the combustion chamber and the injector plate, which was required for modularity, and the dissimilar materials used in the construction of the engine which might reduce the efficacy of the seals further under extreme temperature differentials. Some initial testing indicated that our designs were adequate but we will find out during the full-on test. 

Fully assembled engine with removable combustion chamber

Fully assembled engine with removable combustion chamber

In the end, the engine weighed just under a kilogram. Even though it was never designed for flight, we still had a pretty good thrust-to-weight ratio of 25:1.

Subscale Test Engines

Recently, work has been undergoing on the development of the 5kN Trailblazer main engine, and in the process we have found the need to quickly test and prototype various designs and production techniques. This lead to the development of small, 50lb rocket engines that provide us with a low cost method to test our propulsion systems. One of them is shown being built and assembled below.

The milled out combustion chamber, designed with replaceability and modularity in mind

The milled out combustion chamber, designed with replaceability and modularity in mind

In-house machining of the fuel and oxidizer manifolds

In-house machining of the fuel and oxidizer manifolds

Stay tuned for more updates, because we will be flow testing and firing the assembled engine shortly!

Charles Pooley Research and Development Facility

… a way to make launches become less expensive, smaller, more numerous, more available by a factor of thousands…
— Charles Pooley

A round of internal voting has determined that the facility would be named after the late Charles Pooley, author of Microlaunchers, whose commitment to the vision of small, low cost launch vehicles inspired us to turn the idea into a reality.

Most of the work has been complete at the facility and we have started operations this week. The space test chamber (which is being built), together with the greatly expanded capabilities of our electronics R&D lab, are accelerating the development of numerous nanosatellite products. At the same time, we are excited to make use of the new CNC machine to cut turnaround time from design to hardware with a number of new interesting launch vehicle technologies that are being developed.

Moving into a new facility (Part II)

We made a lot of progress over the past two weeks on preparing the facility. The site has been renovated and equipment has been coming in continuously. Yesterday we received our shipment from the old site. Operations are expected to start here by mid-April!

The main electronics and hardware production space was recoated and new electrical work has been done.

The main electronics and hardware production space was recoated and new electrical work has been done.

Some boxes and high vacuum equipment are being rolled in.

Some boxes and high vacuum equipment are being rolled in.

Furniture, benches, and office supplies

Furniture, benches, and office supplies

220V electrical outlet for our 4-axis CNC milling machine

220V electrical outlet for our 4-axis CNC milling machine

Moving into a new facility (Part I)

Today we started moving into a new industrial facility in Union City to expand our operations. Located right across the Hudson from Manhattan, it is a mere 10 minute drive from New York City and offers us three times as much space as our previous facility.

Renovation is under way to treat the walls and floor and to improve electrical access. With this expanded location, we are able to ramp up our development speed and provide better products and services for the nanosatellite product lines. We will be installing clean bench and cleanroom facilities for space hardware production, in addition to a more comprehensive suite of electronics R&D capabilities. Most importantly we are looking forward to a new in-house machine shop will enable rapid turnarounds for component customization and prototyping.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Nanosatellite solar panels

Today a new batch of triple-junction solar cells arrived at our facility, the first set of which will be flown on ARES Institute's Calypso Cubesat. These flight-proven assemblies from CASC have previously seen in-orbit use on the SCD-2A and CBERS missions. 

A number of small, custom-packaged cells are also being tested for their use on femtosatellite missions.

Aphelion is committed to producing innovative power solution for our customers. In addition to the introduction of these new cells to the domestic market, our research in ultra low powered systems and energy harvesting techniques will bring new breakthroughs in nanosatellite technology. 

Non-coherent Free Space Optical Communication

Optical communication methods are able to provide high data rates but are generally limited in use on microsatellites due to their requirements for either a beam steering device or advanced ADCS. Aphelion is developing a new communication method using high powered, directional non-coherent light to produce self-contained systems with minimal space and pointing requirements. A prototype unit was recently demonstrated with multiple-LED complex modulation on the ground. The unit was able to achieve much higher wall-plug efficiency than laser-based units, and opens up new paths for advanced spatial modulation techniques.