Kirtland uses innovation to help send satellites to space

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ruben Garibay
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

 The Air Force relies on its Airmen to be innovators that bring new processes and technologies to life. A group of 58th Special Operations Wing Airmen from the aircraft metals technology shop at Kirtland Air Force Base took up this challenge when they used their metals technology expertise to create a counterweight that would aid in the launching of satellites throughout the United States Space Force.

Capt. Ryan Erskine, a USSF mechanical engineer, initially reached out to the 58 SOW metal shop in 2021 with an urgent task to create a counterweight with very strict specifications and checklists that need to be followed. This counterweight was then attached to a rocket that launched six satellites into space.

“The counterweight we created was called a CubeSAT. Its purpose is to stabilize the rocket during its launch and flight course,” explains Senior Airman Isaiah Peabody, 58th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals technologies journeyman. “Without this part, the center of gravity of the rocket would not be equal, potentially causing it to crash.”

Never having dealt with spacecraft materials or specifications, the team came together to brainstorm ideas and fused all their experience and training into crafting this counterweight. With limited materials and no room for error, the team had only one opportunity to manufacture this part and get it right the first time.

“Capt. Erskine had a timeline of three weeks to get this crucial part manufactured and shipped out to Florida in time for the launch,” as Staff Sgt. Emmanuel Jackson, 58th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metal technologies craftsman, remembers. “He was contacting a lot of machine and fabrication shops who either said they could not do it in that timeframe or gave him an outrageous price quote.”

Jackson recalls his shop chief being highly motivated and ecstatic when accepting the task. He immediately brought Erskine in to go over blueprints dimensions and everything that needed to go into this part.

The team had to ensure that the counterweight met specific tolerances without any defects and be coated in the chemical Alodine to protect the aluminum part from corrosion before it could be used in the launch.

“This was a whole different ballgame,” Jackson harkened back on. “But to look up at the sky and think that something we created here as a team at Kirtland, is somewhere out there floating in outer space is just unthinkable. Never as a kid would I have imagined doing something to that affect.”

The team has had two other opportunities since creating the first CubeSAT in 2021 to recreate the part for subsequent launches of additional satellites.