MCF > Launch >

Spacecraft Transportation

Scope and Description

This topic page covers the transportation of a small satellite or other flight hardware. Transporting space flight hardware needs to be carefully coordinated to prevent damage to these high-value, often irreplaceable systems. Planning and execution of transportation involves selecting a method of transport, procuring services as needed to ensure proper handling, and packaging the hardware to prevent and monitor for potentially harmful temperature, humidity, contamination, vibration, or shock.

Resources under this topic area are primarily websites and articles that provide practical guidance on packaging and logistics for space hardware transportation. Note that transportation to or from the US typically requires export licensing. Information on export control is available in the "Licensing and Regulations" topic page of this knowledge base.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

The starting point for questions regarding spacecraft transportation should be the launch provider/integrator or test facility that is the destination. These organizations should have extensive experience in this area and be able to either provide guidance or manage the process for you.

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

A good baseline first layer of packaging for most CubeSats and subsystem assemblies is a nitrogen purged ESD bag sealed and followed by a second ESD bag with desiccant and a humidity sensor.

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

If possible, hand deliver your small satellite to the destination. The will save the cost of high-quality shipping services and provide greater control over the conditions during transit.

Resources

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This web article provides an overview of the shipping and packaging process for satellites. It discusses ... proper packaging, shipping containers, licenses, and concerns with transporting cargo via airplane.

Last Updated: Oct. 7, 2021

UPS provides a service specifically for the transport of high-priority goods that are valuable, sensitive, ... and urgent. The UPS Express Critical service includes flexible shipping options, reliable tracking, and 24-hour customer service for highly sensitive packages including smallsats.

This web page provides a real-world example of the transportation of a NASA satellite for the Cryogenic ... Limb Array Etalon Spectrometer (CLAES) mission. The CLAES satellite had to be shipped in a container under regulated atmospheric conditions including controlled humidity and temperature.

CubeSat Mission: From Design to Operation

Article
Cristóbal Nieto-Peroy et al.

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

This article provides an overview of CubeSats and the lifecycle of a CubeSat mission. Section 5 provides ... guidance on the delivery of the spacecraft following integration and test, including a recommended process for packaging and transportation to the launch facility.

Last Updated: Oct. 17, 2021

FedEx offers an efficient and safe packaging and shipping service for high-value spacecraft. Fill out ... the form provided on the website to plan the best method for transporting smallsats to the launch site.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

RUAG offers packaging, transportation, and storage services specifically for spacecraft. The spacecraft ... containers are temperature and humidity controlled and can be pressurized. The dynamic damping systems reduce shock and vibration during transport to prevent unnecessary stresses on the hardware. This is an extreme example of spacecraft packaging for transport that is likely out of scope for any smallsat, but the full scope of environmental considerations addressed could be used to inform the design of smallsat flight hardware packaging.

This paper details a real-world example of spaceflight hardware that was transported from Pasadena, California ... to Toronto, Canada, and was subjected to extreme shock during transit. Lessons learned and recommendations are presented alongside this example.

Standard Practice for Military Packaging

Standard
US Department of Defense

Last Updated: Oct. 17, 2021

This DoD standard provides detailed requirements, documentation, policies, and procedures for the proper ... packaging of military systems. Section 3.8 specifically addresses electrostatic discharge sensitive (ESDS) items and Section 5 provides detailed methodology and instructions for protecting valuable cargo in transit.

Shock and Vibration Indicators and Recorders

Standard
Lockheed Martin Corporation

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMC) document provides instructions for incorporating shock and vibration ... indicators in packaging. It details a variety of indicators that can be easily added to packaging of valuable and sensitive hardware to verify and encourage proper care during transport.