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Designing Custom Springs for Satellites and Aerospace

Last month, NASA launched its newest space satellite, the James Webb telescope. A brand new, state of the art satellite, the James Webb will travel over a million miles from our planet to study parts of space never before examined. The telescope will deploy a range of near infrared cameras and spectrographs to learn the history of the galaxy and our own solar system. The satellite’s size is impressive – a multitude of gold-plated mirrors, a sunshade the size of a tennis court, and of course, a large optical telescope element that contains a range of highly specialised sensors. However, helping power some of the elements of the James Webb, and many other satellites like it, are humble springs.

Springs are a key component for most mechanical and electronic devices, and here at Arrow Spring Manufacturing in Connecticut, we’ve been producing custom springs for the medical, automotive-OEM, and aerospace industries for three generations. We produce micro-compression springs, flat stamped pieces using a four-slide machine, torsion springs and everything in-between.

How are springs used in aerospace applications and satellites?

In aerospace applications, custom-manufactured springs might be included in instruments that deploy antennas, help control fluid and the device environment, operate doors or hatches, lighting, and other equipment.

What do you need to make a spring work in space?

A high level of precision is very important when producing springs for aerospace clients. Have you ever heard the story of the NASA scientists whose Mars Orbiter self destructed because they’d combined imperial and metric measurements? The US aerospace industry tends to use English measurements for all of their calculations and component specifications – custom springs included. 

The durability of the spring and making sure it will function far past its expected lifetime is also crucial. Some satellites, like Meteosat-7, are still in use decades after they were intended to be retired, which is a testament to their engineering. When going into space or traveling even further afield, multiple redundancies are usually built into the design of the satellite to ensure it can continue operating even if something fails. Once a satellite is out in space, it’s not as if you can send engineers to do maintenance on it!

Custom springs for aerospace applications will also undergo a number of processes to make them more durable. The spring may undergo processes like heat treatment, quenching, or shot peening, depending on what might be appropriate.

Most components for aerospace applications will be subjected to extreme temperatures. The James Webb’s sunshade will work at -337˚F and the mid-infrared sensor at -447˚F, cooled by a helium refrigerator. For springs to work at such extreme temperatures, they must be made of special durable alloys, such as Inconel, music wire, Elgiloy, high carbon or specially treated steel.

Custom spring manufacturing for the aerospace industry

Arrow Manufacturing is a small, family owned company that has been producing custom springs since 1951 and is a trusted supplier for the defence and aerospace industries. We produce short-runs and prototypes of custom springs, as well as large orders – perfect if you only need a limited number or need to test a component. We operate in a 40,000 square foot, climate controlled facility in Bristol, CT, with plenty of space to focus on a wide variety of custom-spring orders. 

A crucial component to our manufacturing process is our quality control team at our state of the art facility. Our ISO 9001 certification is a credit to our commitment to quality control – especially important when producing springs for the aerospace industry.