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MIST II support of ILLUMA-T continues Aerodyne Legacy

On Nov. 9, 2023, an uncrewed SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Center with approximately 6,500 pounds of cargo bound for the International Space Station (ISS). 

NASA’s 29th Commercial Resupply Mission carried food, supplies and a number of scientific experiments, including NASA’s ILLUMA-T (Integrated Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Low-Earth-Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal). A refrigerator-sized communication device, ILLUMA-T will provide astronauts and other experiments aboard the ISS with enhanced data capabilities – it also continues a legacy of Aerodyne-supported flight hardware flown on the ISS.

MIST II teammates at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) supported ILLUMA-T, which will use laser communications to relay data to and from Earth via NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). Lasers offer missions much higher data rates than traditional radio frequency data transmission.

“A majority of the work we did to save the ILLUMA-T project from a serious random vibration test failure was completed by a team of Aerodyne and KBR employees last year and included the redesign, proof testing, integration of new flight H/W and retesting of the flight instrument,” said Ken Hinkle, MIST II Teammate Program Manager. 

Prior to its arrival at Goddard in May 2022, ILLUMA-T was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory, where it was designed and partially built for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) office. 

At Goddard, the payload underwent final assembly and structural/thermal testing to ensure it could withstand the rigors of a rocket launch and the extreme environment of space. In final preps for launch, MIST II personnel completed failure recovery testing in April 2023. The instrument is currently operating nominally on the ISS. 

Delivery of ILLUMA-T is the latest in a long line of critical flight payloads that began with Aerodyne’s Engineering Solutions Line of Busi-ness that was located in Tampa, FL.

The team produced a number of hardware units for ground check out of ISS payloads and developed components and flight hardware spares and replacement units bound for the ISS, including: 

  • Fabrication of three Flight Covers for existing external Multiplexer/Demultiplexers (MDM). 

  • Build and acceptance testing of 12 complex Flight Harnesses for the replacement Ammonia Tank Assembly.

  • Fabrication of six Power Wire Harness Assemblies and six Data Wire Harness Assemblies for the ExPress (EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments to the Space Station) Rack system. 

  • Development of Box Level Test Console Hardware and Simulation Software for Docking Adapter Checkout. 

  • Fabrication of RAPTR (Remote Advanced Payload Test Rig) Portable ISS Payload Host System Emulator. 

  • Fabrication of ISS Fire Suppression System and Galley Power Supply Prototype. 

  • Integration of Amplifier Printed Wiring Assembly (PWA), which resides in the Audio Terminal unit (ATU).

ILLUMA-T undergoing integration and testing at Goddard clean room.

SpaceX CRS-29 launch on Nov. 9, 2023.


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