Research in Engineering and Aviation

Design and Construction of a Low-Cost Economical Thermal Vacuum Chamber for Spacecraft Environmental Testing


Author(s): S. Jayaram, E. Gonzalez

Journal: Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp. 47 – 62, 2011. DOI: 10.1108/17260531111121468


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to describe the design and construction of a custom-built low-cost thermal vacuum chamber (TVC) for spacecraft environmental testing and verification. The paper provides detailed analysis and an insight into the design and development of the chamber. The chamber was specifically constructed for carrying out the thermal and vacuum environmental tests in a 16? dia × 16? long horizontal thermal vacuum chamber. The chamber is constructed using a combination of mechanical (roughing) pump and turbo-molecular pump, used to pump the chamber down to 10-5?Torr and a combination of radiation heaters and nitrogen gas is used to vary the temperature within the chamber from +80 to -50°C.

Design/methodology/approach – The TVC equipment is built as part of the picosatellite and nanosatellite program at Space Systems Research Laboratory of Saint Louis University. The equipment is built at a low cost and is suited for testing an entire picosatellite and several components and subsystems of nanosatellite simulating thermal and vacuum conditions similar to space environment. The different main parts of the equipment are described in a way which explains the choice of construction and partly makes it possible to replicate similar equipment.

Findings – The TVC equipment is successfully used to simulate the thermal and vacuum conditions of space similar to the conditions experienced by a picosatellite or nanosatellite in low earth orbit.

Research limitations/implications – The design and construction of TVC in this paper have broader implications and can be a platform for future research on low-cost TVC. This equipment can be utilized in the research areas of electronics and communications, biology and medicine to name a few. Thermal and vacuum experiments on several astro-biological experiments can be performed.

Practical implications – The paper is intended to be a source of inspiration for industrial or academic space research laboratories which would like to design and construct a similar test-equipment, instead of investing expensive commercially available alternatives.

Originality/value – The paper discusses in detail, the simplified cost-effective approach of constructing TVC and also outlines the various issues to be considered. The TVC equipment is custom-built and is described in an easily understandable way, which makes this a helpful paper for those who wish to produce similar equipment. This will be the only known manuscript in the literature to detail the design and construction of low-cost, economical TVC.