Vibration Testing of Small Satellites

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Vibration Testing of Small Satellites

2-Day Course

$1550 per person


This new two-day course provides a tutorial, practical guidance, examples, and recommendations for testing a small satellite on an electrodynamic shaker. Addressed are sine-burst testing, random vibration testing, and low-level diagnostic sine sweeps. Notching, response limiting, and force limiting are addressed in detail, with examples. The course is primarily aimed at satellites in the 50 – 500 lb (23 – 230 kg) range, but it also applies to CubeSats. Most of the guidance applies to larger satellites as well if they will be tested on a shaker. This course is designed for engineers and managers involved in ensuring small spacecraft can withstand launch environments.

  • Establish an effective vibration test program
  • Identify and clearly state test objectives
  • Design (or recognize) a test that satisfies the identified objectives while minimizing risk of an over test
  • Establish pass/fail criteria and interpret test data
  • Write effective test plans and reports

Who Should Attend

All engineers & managers involved in ensuring small spacecraft can withstand launch environments.

  1. Overview
    • Shaker basics
    • Test Objectives
    • Review: Mechanics of Vibration; transmissibility
    • Common types of vibration tests
    • Pass/fail criteria
    • Limitations of testing on a shaker
    • Dry running the test
  2. Test Configuration, Fixtures, and Instrumentation
    • Test article configuration
    • Test fixutre design
    • Providing a flight-like interface
    • Mass simulator design
    • Accelerometers
    • Strategies for determining base force and moment
  3. Low-level Sine Sweep Testing
    • Objectives and test parameters
    • Examples of response data
    • Deriving damping from test data
    • Criteria for pre- and post-test comparisons
    • Common reasons for differences betwee pre and post-test data
    • Limitations of sine-sweep comparisons in detecting failure
  4. Sine Burst Testing
    • Introduction and objectives
    • Applicable standards
    • Limiations of sine-burst test effectiveness
    • Pass/fail criteria
    • Designing the sine-burst test environment
    • Establishing the test axes and deriving the target accelerations
    • Selecting the sine-burst frequency
    • Accounting for dynamic amplification
    • Potential problem and recommendations
  5. Random Vibration Testing
    • Introduction and objectives
    • Acceleration (or power) spectral density: understanding g²/Hz
    • Root-mean-square acceleration
    • Peak acceleration for random vibration
    • Decibels
    • How test environments are derived
    • Government standards
    • Use of GEVS environments and a related common problem
    • Data resolution
    • Interpreting test data
  6. Notching and Force Limiting
    • What is notching, and why do we do it?
    • Methods of notching: force limiting, response limiting, and manual notching
    • Case history: how notching without technical rationale led to mission failure
    • Using force gages to measure base force
    • Force limiting: references, the semi-empirical method of deriving force limits, examples modification during test
    • Response limiting
    • Manual notching
  7. Test Documentation and Reviews
    • Managing the process
    • Test plans and procedures
    • Getting buy-in before the test
    • Test-readiness review
    • Pre-teardown review
    • Flash report
    • Test report

"Great presentation of how the culture of a space program should be developed." -- TenP

"I might have been able to save NASA millions of dollars if I had taken this course a year ago." -- ESSI

"I wish I had taken this class 20 years ago. Possibly the best course I've ever taken" -- SMS

"Tom Sarafin's courses never disappoint. This class offers a well-balanced blend of fundamentals examples, and lessons learned that any aerospace engineer involved in structural test design and interpretation would benefit from." -- STDI

"Great course! Lots of lessons learned. The examples made it that much better." -- DABJ

Tom’s teaching style & many years of experience make for a rich and entertaining course in what is a very complicated topic.

Whether you’re a novice engineer with little to no experience in vibration testing or a more experienced engineer …, you’ll walk away from this class feeling you’ve learned a lot.

If this course is not on the current schedule of open enrollment courses and you are interested in attending this or another course as an open enrollment, please contact us at (410) 956-8805 or Please indicate the course name, number of students who wish to participate. and a preferred time frame. ATI typically schedules open enrollment courses with a 3-5 month lead time. For on-site pricing, you can use the request an on-site quote form, call us at (410) 956-8805, or email us at


Tom Sarafin

Tom Sarafin, has worked full time in the space industry since 1979 as a structural engineer, a mechanical systems engineer, a project manager, and a consultant. He’s consulted for NASA, DARPA, the DOD Space Test Program, Lockheed Martin, DigitalGlobe, Space Systems/Loral, Spaceflight Industries, and other organizations. He was a key member of the team that developed NASA-STD-5020, Requirements for Threaded Fastening Systems in Spaceflight Hardware” (March 2012). He is the editor and principal author of Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms: From Concept to Launch and is a contributing author to Space Mission Analysis and Design. He’s also the principal author of a series of papers titled “Vibration Testing of Small Satellites.” Since 1995, he has taught over 250 courses to more than 5000 engineers and managers in the aerospace industry.

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