Space Electronics

Space Electronics-Color-Final2

Acquired by Raptor Scientific in 2019, Space Electronics is the premier provider of mass properties instruments and services utilized in mission-critical applications. Headquartered in Berlin, Connecticut, the company’s unmatched engineering expertise, combined with its superior testing and aftermarket services delivers industry-leading precision capabilities and a highly loyal customer base. The management team, consisting of Dan Otlowski, Paul Kennedy, Brandon Rathbun, and Jim Cramer, collectively have more than 100 years of experience with the company and in the mass properties measurement field.

Over the last 55 years, Space Electronics has sold more moment of inertia and center of gravity instruments than any other company. One reason for this success is unique technology – Space Electronics invented the force restoration concept of CG measurement and the inverted torsion pendulum method of measuring MOI. The company originated the spherical gas bearing spin balance machine which uses two force transducers to determine both product of inertia and CG offset in a single run. Space Electronics instruments are extraordinarily reliable, with some instruments still in use daily for more than 20 years without malfunctioning.

Space Electronics instruments are the most accurate in the world, with a moment accuracy of 1 part in 300,000. Most mass properties measuring instruments manufactured by other companies use load cell technology, which is only capable of an accuracy of 1 part in 2000. The extraordinary accuracy of Space Electronics instruments allows for the manufacture a single instrument which can accurately measure objects whose weight ranges from 100% to less than 3% of full scale. Other manufacturers must supply several different size instruments to accomplish the same goal.

History of Space Electronics

Dick Boynton founded Space Electronics in 1959 while attending graduate courses at Yale University in his basement and garaged in Yalesville, CT. He later moved the company to a storefront in Meriden, CT.

In the 1960’s, Space Electronics designed and built a variety of products including:

  • Flicker Fusion Tester to measure the human eye’s response to pulsating light,
  • Wire Marker that painted colored bands on a telephone wire as it passed through the extruding machine,
  • Antenna Drive responsible for aiming a large Yagi antenna used for astronomical research. The company made at least seven of these, and they were installed at NASA sites around the world,
  • Astronomical Position Computer, an analog computer that kept track of the positions of various planets and the sun. The computer also controlled the antenna drive.
  • Spectral Photometer, an optical/mechanical device that was attached to an astronomical telescope and analyzed the light coming from a single object.
  • Radiometer, an electronic device that analyzed the signal received by a radio telescope.
  • 10,000 Lb Rocket Thrust Stand to measure the various force components produced by a rocket motor when it was test fired on the ground. A built-in deadweight calibrator was used to assure its accuracy. The system was installed at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
  • 2000 lb Gas Bearing MOI Machine sold to NASA and installed in their facility in Greenbelt, MD.
  • 8000 Lb Gas Bearing MOI Machine sold to a balancing machine manufacturer. They mounted it on top of one of their static balancers and sold it to their customer as a combination CG-MOI machine.

In the 1970’s, Dick moved Space Electronics to the office and manufacturing space in Wallingford, CT. Products designed and built in this location included:

  • Unique MOI machine. Dick received a patent for the basic design which suspends the instrument spindle from the middle of a long torsion rod which is fixed at its ends and held in tension. Both gas bearing (XKR series) and ball bearing (XR series) models were designed and built for test parts weighing from 0.001 lb to 250 lb.
  • Special high-accuracy gas-bearing MOI for testing a kinetic kill vehicle,
  • The first static CG measuring machine: accuracy was 0.0005 inch for a 40 lb part,
  • 3000 lb gas bearing MOI machine, 8000 lb gas bearing MOI machine, 1000 lb spherical gas bearing CG and MOI machine,
  • 1000 lb vertical axis rocket thrust stand for a rotating part,
  • Early gas bearing CG machines: Several of these were used for balancing gimbaled seekers,
  • Vibration meters that included frequency analysis,
  • Modifications and improvements to a high-level low-frequency sound test facility installed at Wright Patterson AFB. This was originally intended for Apollo astronaut testing and was ultimately used for calibrating microphones for airport sound level studies, air bag deployment studies and pilot efficiency studies.

As the design of the CG and MOI machines evolved, Space Electronics started incorporating Hewlett Packard calculators and desktop computers into mass properties measurement systems. These machines gradually became more automatic, and more sophisticated data reduction was built into the software.

In the 1980’s, Dick moved Space Electronics to Meriden, CT. At this location, the company developed:

  • The first 5000 lb spherical gas bearing CG/MOI machine,
  • A vertical-axis dynamic balancing machines in 300 lb to 2200 lb sizes,
  • An all-mechanical longitudinal CG machine for live Patriot warheads
  • A wide range of Gimbal Balance Machines using force rebalance technology many of which incorporated weight correction software and closed loop control of the test part.
  • Many multiple-channel electrical test devices for both explosive and non-explosive test items,
  • Portable digital igniter circuit testers. After gaining approval by the US Navy, the tester was sold to installations throughout the world,
  • 13,200 lb capacity gas bearing MOI and CG machine for NASDA, the Japanese space agency (now called JAXA),
  • Measurement stand to test the alignment of mounting shoes on air-to-air missiles,
  • Non-contact alignment and measurement stand using laser technology

The company continued to enhance their automated mass properties products by switching to IBM compatible computers for instrument control and data reduction, and incorporating force-rebalance transducers into the design.

In 1989, Space Electronics moved to a new 24,000 sq ft building in Berlin, CT. At this location, the team at Space Electronics developed a process for measuring MOI in a helium atmosphere, allowing the operator to extrapolate the true MOI values for a body in the vacuum of space without having to measure in a vacuum. Advances in standard products continued with the development of software to run in the Microsoft Windows operating environment.

In the 1990’s, Space Electronics designed and built:

  • Single and three axis turbine blade moment weighing machines for a wide range of blade weights and moments.
  • Software, techniques, and fixtures to allow POI measurement on an MOI machine.
  • Centrifuges with 200 lb capacity and 400 g maximum force
  • Spherical gas bearings for space simulation
  • New spin balance machines using quartz force transducers for dynamic unbalance measurement and force rebalance transducers for static measurement. 50 lb, 300 lb, 1000 lb, 3500 lb, 12000 lb machines have been built.
  • Horizontal gas bearing spindles for inertial spin decay measurement
  • Large L-Fixtures for static CG and MOI measurement of satellites
  • Weight and CG tables ranging from 30 lb to 10,000 lb capacity using both strain gauge and force rebalance transducers.
  • Tri-axis gas bearings with 10,000 lb capacity and unlimited rotation about two axes (third axis rotation was limited to +/- 30 degrees.
  • Precision Weight and CG for small parts with 2.5 g-mm accuracy
  • New and unique turbine blade adaptors that yield improved repeatability and simplified blade insertion.
  • Developed a new method for measuring CG that significantly increases measurement speed. A high-speed feature was added to the larger machines of the KSR series mass properties instruments.

In the 2000’s, Space Electronics increased our level of service to provide our clients with unlimited solutions. Services include maintenance, consulting, seminars, measurement services, machine rentals, machine relocations, certification, and calibration. Designed and built during that time were:

  • New MOI and CG machines with 22,000 lb payload capacity.
  • Scripting software that enable engineers to define automated sequences for the operators to follow in order to measure various test objects.
  • High-speed KSR: these new mass properties instruments reduce the measurement time by three.
  • A new line of three-axis moment weight scales with reduced cost and comparable accuracy to the traditional models.

Since 2010, Space Electronics has designed and built:

  • Vacuum compatible spin balance machines.
  • Spacecraft positioners for measuring all the mass properties of satellites without repositioning them.
  • Horizontal moment of inertia instruments for measuring control surfaces (ailerons and rudders) of large commercial aircraft.
  • A high accuracy blade balancer for helicopter blades.
  • Multi-channel igniter circuit testers.
  • Automation software for igniter circuit testers.