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Vibration Testing

Scope and Description

This topic covers sinusoidal and random vibration testing of spacecraft and component sub-assemblies or parts. This testing ensures that the spacecraft will survive the launch vibration environment and can provide vibration response data (e.g., accelerometry) for validation and refinement of structural analysis models. This testing is particularly important for smallsats, as smallsat teams often do not have access to the tools, expertise, or budget necessary to complete accurate, high-fidelity structural analyses for launch vibration.

Resources in this topic area are primarily standards which provide reference vibration environments and related requirements. In addition, articles describing smallsat vibration test procedures provide valuable examples to inform test planning and application of experimental data collected during testing.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

  • Accelerometer data from vibration testing can be an powerful tool for validation and refinement of structural analysis models. Carefully plan out vibration test accelerometer positioning to validate both (1) the excitation close to structural interfaces and (2) at locations where your modeling predicts relatively high response in various vibrational modes.
  • Carefully plan for vibration testing and document these plans in detail. Review your vibration test plan with key stakeholders on your team and, if applicable, with the test facility personnel. Facility specific equipment and processes can significantly impact these plans (e.g., accelerometry positioning, test fixture design, etc.) and should be carefully considered in advance.
  • In-house vibration test equipment and processes, even for small spacecraft, are expensive and time consuming to set up and maintain. However, due to the general-purpose nature of these facilities, they are quite common within large engineering organizations and universities and are rarely booked-up. Reach out to colleagues, project stakeholders, and other individuals in your network to see if you can get free or low-cost access and avoid the cost of a traditional vibration test services provider.
  • Conduct comprehensive inspection and functional testing on the test article before and after vibration testing and compare results to detect damage. For electronics, functional testing at hot and cold temperatures following vibration testing is a good way to identify broken wires and solder joints which may not be detected with an ambient post-vibration functional test.


White Paper

This page in the NASA Public Lessons Learned System recommends that thermal vacuum tests follow dynamics ... tests (e.g. vibration testing). It provides detailed guidance and motivation for this recommendation.

White Paper
US Department of Defense

This handbook provides in-depth guidance on testing of space vehicles. The testing covered includes structural ... loading, thermal vacuum, thermal cycling, thermal balance, pressure testing, burn-in, random vibration, acoustic, and pyroshock - among others. This is a dated but comprehensive source of space hardware test environments and processes.


This ECSS standard details specific standards for ground testing of space flight hardware. The testing ... covered includes mechanical, structural, thermal, electrical, and RF - among others.

This article is a reflection on the acceptance testing performed for a 120kg small satellite. It covers ... EMC testing, vibration testing, and thermal/vacuum testing. This case study is a good resource to review before performing your own testing.

White Paper
Aerospace Corporation

"This Standard establishes the environmental and structural ground testing requirements for launch vehicles, ... upper-stage vehicles, space vehicles, and their subsystems and units. In addition, a uniform set of definitions of related terms is established."

Steve Furger

This thesis discusses the development of a vibration model used for cubesats deployer systems, and a ... proposed solution for mitigating the vibration effects. The paper provides detailed information on the development of the vibration model and discusses how and why vibration loads affect cubesats in the deployer system.

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