By Steve Pollock
Since its beginning in 1960, the Huntsville, AL-based George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) has provided NASA with mission-critical design, development and integration of the launch and space systems required for space operations, exploration and scientific missions.
MSFC is the U.S. government’s civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research center. One of the largest NASA field centers, MSFC’s first mission was developing the Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo moon program. Marshall has been the agency’s lead center for Space Shuttle propulsion including its external tank; science payloads and related crew training; International Space Station (ISS) design and assembly; and computers, networks and information management. Located on the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, MSFC is named in honor of General of the Army George Marshall.
The Electrical Fabrication & Assembly Facility is part of MSFC and provides printed circuit assembly and cable fabrication all the way through chassis assembly and integration. The electrical shop provides the capability for both through-hole and surface mount component assembly on printed circuit boards (PCB). Along with circuit board and cable assembly, conformal coating, staking and electrical potting processes are performed. Other capabilities include fabrication of flight, Ground Support Equipment (GSE) and fiber optic cable harnesses.
For decades, advances in space technology have enabled NASA to expand the boundaries of not only the aerospace industry but also the world. The work done at Marshall Space Flight Center helps pioneer, develop, demonstrate and apply new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions. Partnerships with key companies helps to improve existing technologies and invent new ones. Essemtec is one such company and has been a partner with MSFC since 2006.
Over the past decade, NASA has used Essemtec’s SP200AV solder paste printer with automated alignment and its FLX2010V automated pick-and-place machine, which can place from 0201 chip parts to 50 mm integrated circuits (IC). Most recently, NASA’s MSFC is using the FOX 1 pick-and place system, which replaces a previous generation system. The FOX 1 is aiding MSFC in the building of engineering test boards, prototyping, building boards for the space station and also for the new rocket that will be deployed to Mars.
FOX is the first machine in its class with linear motors and a mineral cast frame, providing exceptional speed and accuracy, and making it perfectly suited for use in small-production environments. FOX measures only 88 x 109 cm but can accept PCBs up to 406 x 305 mm. The FOX has a small form factor that makes it one of the most efficient systems available today: it takes up less space and results in maximum floor layout flexibility. In designing FOX, special emphasis was placed on making product changeovers fast and simple. The large number of intelligent feeders allow many different components to be immediately available to be hot swapped for production. Fast, intuitive teach-in of components and import of CAD data is made possible using the proven and well thought out ePlace software. The FOX includes a touch screen intuitive MMI as well as setup check clearance to further enhance its ease-of-use design. The cost-effective FOX handles pick-and-place and dispense applications on one platform. It uses low power and a single phase, which translate into low installation costs as well as low running costs.
Essemtec is regarded by MSFC experts as a good partner because the company provides good equipment and good support from good people. Additionally, the systems have lasted for more than 11 years and meet MSFC’s challenge of flexibility. Engineers work with many different types of boards so having a large feeder capacity is a significant benefit. As an added bonus, the Essemtec machines have efficient footprints and do not take up much floor space in the lab.
Essemtec’s five-star service rating is well deserved since the company is always very attentive and accommodating, even when it comes to working on older machines. As a combined result of the high-quality technology and support, NASA’s MSFC plans to continue partnering with Essemtec into the foreseeable future because Essemtec consistently provides MSFC with easy-to-use, high quality equipment that will help advance NASA’s space missions.
For more information, contact Adam Gowan, Lead, Electronic Fabrication & Test Team at NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL 35812 or visit www.nasa.gov/marshall.