Satellite Assembly and Test Facility (SATF)
(Now known as the David Florida Laboratory (DFL))
Following the naming of Telesat Canada as the operator of Canada's domestic communications satellites, it was decided that the Department of Communications would continue in its international collaboration with the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) by developing a Communications Technology Satellite (CTS). A project team under Dr. Colin Franklin was formed in the early 1970"s to undertake this work. Within the initial project organization, Colin had Dr. Leroy Nelms as Deputy and a number of managers such as Mac Evans in charge of Systems, Harold Raine as manager of the yet-to-be-developed SATF as well as manager of the spacecraft integration and testing, Bob Gruno in charge of spacecraft subsystem development, and with support from other electrical, mechanical and programme office groups.
At the outset of the project, we toured a number of satellite test facilities, particularly in the United States, such as those run by General Electric at Valley Forge and by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, looking for suitable test sites for CTS and to obtain better insight into the kind of facility suitable to test a medium-sized geostationary type of spacecraft. Eventually, NASA designated the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland to collaborate with DOC on the CTS project. This center was equipped with thermal-vacuum and vibration test facilities that could be used in the environmental testing of CTS.
As a result of the agreement with NASA, the SATF was designed originally as a facility to test subsystems rather than the all-up spacecraft. The integration area, of course needed to be sufficiently spacious to allow assembly and operation of the full spacecraft. Since the foldable solar arrays had to be extended during spacecraft functional checks, the integration area was appropriately sized as can be seen in the numerous photographs that are on record of those activities.
The SATF was comprised of four main areas: the R.F. anechoic chamber/antenna range, the integration area, the environmental test area, and an office area for the project staff. At the outset, the environmental area included three vacuum chambers (two with thermal vacuum capability) and a vibration cell. A small change room accessed both the environmental test area and the integration high-bay area. A meeting room on the second floor also served as an observation point over both areas.
To cope with the work load expected in the establishment of the SATF, two supervisors were hired. Nick Steinmetz (formerly from RCA in Montreal) undertook the development of the specifications for the vacuum chambers. Bernie Kinney with a great amount of test experience from the United States took on the specifications for the vibration facility. Others from the Communications Research Centre (CRC) from the programme office, from Site Services and the support groups helped in defining the building and its services. Visits were arranged to the sites of potential vendors including HiVac and Unde-Holtz Dicke who eventually supplied the original vacuum chambers and vibrator, respectively. While equipment for performing solar simulation was not incorporated for a number of reasons, but especially because of the anticipated cost, the 8'x8' chamber was designed so a limited capability could be provided by modifying the end bell and adding a xenon lamp. As operations began in SATF, it was realized that a data recording system would soon become a necessity. Since a Digital Equipment Corporation minicomputer that had been "retired" from CRC was available, it was put into use in SATF, with some misgivings. It proved to be a mixed blessing - good because the price was right, but cumbersome to use with out-of-date user interfacing. Ultimately, in later years in the upgrades that eventually occurred, it was replaced with a more modern easy-to-use, more powerful machine.
The SATF was built, checked out and finally officially opened at a ceremony marking the tenth anniversary of the operation of Alouette I, Canada's first experimental scientific satellite. Alouette had been integrated many years before in the laboratories of the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE), the forerunner of CRC, within 100 yards of the SATF.
Although sized for subsystems, the SATF was used for preliminary thermal-vacuum and vibration testing on the CTS engineering model spacecraft. The performance of the 10'x30' vertical vacuum turned out to be exceptional, by providing a much harder vacuum than specified. It had been planned only as a container to remove most of the air, for solar array flexure testing. This eventually allowed it to be used for a wider variety of test than we originally envisaged. Although not originally planned, we were able to perform coarse magnetic tests on the CTS in the high bay area as well.
Cleanliness in SATF was always a factor in its design and day-to-day operations. A particle counter was installed in the high bay area to ensure that the "class 100,000" condition was maintained by the filtering system. In general, cleanliness in the building was satisfactory, although on one occasion there was much consternation when a sparrow was discovered flying around in the upper reaches of the high bay area. Cleaning took on new meaning until we were able to get it out of the building. The temperature of the two main test areas was kept within tight limits by a rather complex control system. Unfortunately the system failed (over night according to Murphy's Law) while the CTS flight spacecraft was being integrated in the high bay, causing the temperature to approach 35 degrees Celsius. This situation was especially alarming, when it was discovered in the morning, since this was near the maximum permitted temperature for the nickel cadmium batteries that had already been installed (the planned maximum operating temperature for them was some 10 degrees lower). On this occasion, cleanliness took second priority to safety and the main access doors on the side of the high bay were flung open to expedite the lowering of the temperature in the area.
Although class 100,000 implies a maximum in terms of dust size, it does not rule out the accumulation of dust on exposed surfaces over a period of time. Since, the EM CTS spacecraft was slated to remain in storage in the SATF high bay for several months while the FM spacecraft was being tested in the U.S.A., a temporary plastic tent was placed over it. Upon our return to Canada, the crew was somewhat taken aback by the layer of dust covering the plastic.
Safety too, was of concern during the design and operation of SATF, not only for the spacecraft, but for the personnel as well. A sprinkler system was considered for installation throughout the building, but was rejected on the grounds of being a potential hazard to the spacecraft especially if it were set off accidentally. An inert gas system was also considered. Such systems are safe for extinguishing fires around electrical and other sensitive equipment. Unfortunately, these systems are effective by displacing the oxygen in the air, thus becoming a hazard to any of the staff who still might be in the area. As a consequence, no automatic fire extinguishing system was installed during the days of the CTS satellite, but rather attention was focussed on preventative measures. One such precaution was taken during the planning of the R.F. anechoic chamber. This enclosure was intended to be lined with R.F. absorbent pyramidal "cones", typically made of a carbon loaded foam rubber. Since there was concern that some vendors may have supplied absorber that could catch fire or give off toxic fumes while smoldering (reports of accidents involving electrical shorts in anechoic chambers in the U.S.A. had been heard), tests were run on candidates in the field behind the SATF in which samples were subjected to a blow torch. The selected material was deemed to be safe since only scorching was observed. As the integration of the CTS FM was nearing its completion, there was some concern that it could be vulnerable to vandalism or inadvertent damage by curious visitors, in spite of the security fencing around the perimeter of CRC. Accordingly, a guard was stationed at the entrance to the integration and test areas for the final activities of CTS integration at the SATF. Fortunately, there were no safety violations encountered.
Although the SATF was sized for CTS and its planned activities, the office area proved to be undersized for the project team. A number of temporary buildings were installed adjacent to SATF, that have remained in more or less continuous use for many years. As time has passed, many more and significantly larger (domestic and foreign) projects have made use of the facility which was subsequently renamed the David Florida Laboratory in memory of David Florida, former Programme Manager for the Alouette/ISIS Programme. To support these projects, substantial upgrading, enlargement and additional capabilities have been incorporated. Operational staff under Dr. R. Mamen have been added to handle the larger facility and the increased requirements.
Harold Raine, Friends of CRC
Page created on October 10, 1997 by Cynthia Boyko
Last updated onFebruary 5,2001
Copyright © Friends of CRC, 1997