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Taking IMAX to the Stars

March 8, 2008
Engineering firm uses simulation tools to help carry the camera to the Hubble telescope.

Launching into space, needless to say, is a stressful endeavor. Designing a structure to withstand that stress, as well as the stress of re-entry, became the challenge for Pagnotta Engineering when it was selected to design the support structure that will carry a more than 500-pound IMAX camera into space later this year to film the final space shuttle servicing mission of the Hubble space telescope. Pagnotta performed the work for Orbital Sciences Corp., a NASA contractor.

Simulation software played a crucial role in the support structure's development, as it does with many aerospace projects, says Mike Pagnotta, the engineering services firm's president. "The front end of everything is simulation, whether it's the 3-D solid model of the design or it's the finite element model."

The support arm project presented a number of challenges: limited space in which to place the camera, the aforementioned stress associated with launch and re-entry, and a tight timeframe in which to perform the work. The customer wanted it quickly. "It's not a trivial thing" to add more than 800 pounds, which is the weight of the camera and support structure, Pagnotta notes. Work began in April 2007 and drawings were signed by August of that same year. The shuttle is scheduled to launch in August 2008.

Image of the IMAX support structure integrated on ORU (orbital replacement unit) carrier.Pagnotta used NX Nastran and Femap from Siemens PLM Software to evaluate multiple configurations of the structure before a final design was settled upon. Among the analyses performed by Pagnotta were modal analysis and stress analysis.

"The whole advantage of doing the mathematical simulation is what we call 'retiring risk.' We're predicting mathematically what's going on before [the product] is built, so we know whether we have a problem before it's built," he says.

The customer has asked Pagnotta Engineering to write the test plans for the support structure. "The test is really a validation of the mathematical simulation," Pagnotta says.

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