A "White Room"—also called a "clean room"—is a highly clean enclosed area where satellites and rocket parts are assembled and tested prior to launching. White rooms provide the necessary controlled environment to ensure that a satellite is ready for launch. Instruments onboard satellites are very sensitive to dust and degrade when exposed to oil or humidity, so a White Room maintains a constant temperature and humidity, eliminates dust, and protects the satellite during its development, construction, and testing. Typically, White Rooms are also designed to guard against electromagnetic hazards. For example, the floor of a White Room might be constructed to avoid a buildup of static electricity. These precautions ensure that electronic and electrical testing of electrical systems can be carried out.
Technicians and workers wear protective gear at all times inside a White Room. Everyone entering the room must wear a "bunny suit"—special coveralls, hoods, boots, gloves, and masks. This special clothing is worn to eliminate dirt and dust from clothing, avoid flakes and hair from the scalp, and keep the satellite away from exhaled breath. The gear helps protect the sensitive flight hardware from particles that could impede performance.
There are many types of White Rooms around the world, most of which are located at launch sites and at locations where satellites are built. The Spacecraft Assembly and Encapsulation Facility is one of the Kennedy Space Center's many White Room facilities. It is used for assembly, testing, encapsulation , ordnance work, propellant loading, and spacecraft pressurization. At another site, the Multi-Payload Processing Facility (MPPF), non-hazardous payloads go through their final assembly in preparation for launch. This includes installation of such things as solar panels, antennas, and other items shipped separately to the launch site. During a payload's stay at the MPPF, stand-alone systems testing and payload functional testing with payload-unique ground checkout equipment are conducted to ensure the payload is ready for launch.
At Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pads 39A and 39B, an environmentally controlled White Room that can accommodate up to six people is joined to the space shuttle orbiter's hatch prior to launch. It is here that the astronaut flight crew is assisted in entering the orbiter. The White Room—located at the end of the Orbiter Access Arm—remains in an extended position until about seven minutes before launch to provide an emergency exit for the crew. In an emergency, the White Room can be mechanically or manually repositioned in fifteen seconds.
An enormous White Room is located at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. This facility houses the 37,000-cubic-meter (48,360-cubic-yard) High Bay Clean Room, which is used to integrate and test space hardware. The largest of its kind anywhere, this White Room plays an important role in the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts for several Hubble servicing missions trained in this room. Using the White Room's very precise mechanical and electrical simulators, astronauts practiced installing actual Hubble hardware.
see also Launch Sites (volume 3); Rockets (volume 3); Space Centers (volume 3).
John F. Kross
Boston University Terrier Satellite: The Clean Room. Boston University. <http://web.bu.edu/satellite/spacecraft/cleanroom.html>.
Hubble Space Systems Development and Integration (SSDIF) Facility. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. <http://microgravity.nasa.gov/ISSLAB.html>.
John F. Kennedy Space Center. <http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/>.