This topic page covers the commissioning phase of a smallsat mission. Commissioning is the first phase of satellite operations and begins immediately after deployment. Commissioning typically includes initial orbit determination and tracking; making first contact; sequential activation and checkout of spacecraft subsystems; and calibration of payloads, sensors, and control systems. Planning for commissioning requires the involvement of experts from the entire engineering team and payload teams to establish the procedures, optimal sequence, and staffing required for this important and high-risk phase of operations.
Resources under this topic area are primarily case studies for commissioning of small satellite missions.
Consider having backup ground stations, beaconing from the satellite (if allowed by licenses), and space fence options in early commissioning stages in case your initial TLE is not accurate. TLEs are often inaccurate in the days after deployment and the satellite may not survive with no contact for an extended period after launch.
If your smallsat will be deployed from the ISS, consider the impact of ISS safety requirements that may effect commissioning. These protocols and procedures may impose constraints on the timing of events during early commissioning and the design of related flight software and hardware.
If your design includes a compatible transmitter that operates in the amateur band, engage with the amateur radio community to connect with volunteers that can help you track and establish communications with your satellite.
Automate recovery from off-nominal states of the spacecraft after deployment with a recovery mode. This spacecraft mode should maximize energy balance margin and only operate subsystems essential to establishing communication with Earth. High spin rates from deployment, failed release of solar panels, and other anomalies can quickly lead to an discharged battery and unrecoverable state of the satellite.
Thoroughly plan and practice commissioning procedures, including response plans for any potential anomalies identified by the team.
This conference paper on commissioning of an 88-cubesat constellation of Planet's Earth observation cubesats ... discusses "the challenges, innovations, and results of Flock 3p commissioning with a focus on on-orbit results, lessons learned, and implementation of an agile aerospace approach to operation of large constellations."
This annual state-of-the-art report from NASA provides "a survey of small spacecraft technologies sourced ... from open literature" with an introduction to each technology, development status and performance metrics for procurable systems, and descriptions of new technologies with reference missions. Section 12 of this report covers identification and tracking system technologies.
This conference paper provides an overview of the complex commissioning process that Planet implements ... for the satellite batches of their new SuperDove satellites. This constellation of 3U+ earth imaging satellites are commissioned using automated tools developed to bring the satellites to their nominal state for planned operations. Page 4 discusses the challenges associated with commissioning and page 5 introduces the techniques and tools used to automate the process.
Chapter 19 of this handbook, titled In-space Operations, provides information on early-stage planning, ... first contact with the spacecraft, operation tools and procedures, and commissioning of a CubeSat. Additionally, once the satellite has been properly commissioned it goes into further detail on the primary and potential future goals of the mission.
This resource provides Cal Poly's standard 6U CubeSat design specifications and the requirements to be ... met for integration with 6U dispensers. This specification includes engineering drawings, acceptance checklists, and operational requirements that will drive satellite behavior in early commissioning (i.e., during and immediately following deployment).
This resource provides Cal Poly's standard standard 1U, 1.5U, 2U, 3U, 3U+ CubeSat design specifications ... and the requirements to be met for integration with 6U dispensers. This specification includes engineering drawings, acceptance checklists, and operational requirements that will drive satellite behavior in early commissioning (i.e., during and immediately following deployment).
This NASA document provides the technical safety and design requirements for end items applicable to ... the International Space Station (ISS). The end item provider is ultimately responsible for mitigating potential safety concerns related to hardware, software, and operations. This detailed document offers processes, requirements, and guidance for preventing potential hazards on the ISS.