No doubt you have witnessed or even experienced situations where one slight mistake or inattention has cost days, months, or even years of hard work. We are used to concentrating and working with more attention at crucial moments, but when it seems that the main part of work is done and we can relax a little bit, that is when we easily make mistakes that can become fatal for the project, mission or even people’s lives later on.
When working with technology, it is necessary to maintain a high level of caution, from calculations and design to product assembly, testing, and even operation. However, even when a device is fully assembled, all final tests have been performed, and it is completely ready for the flight, one step remains, failure to do which could cause the device becoming inoperable after its launch into space.
You have probably noticed the bright “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” tags on parts of air- and spacecraft. These tags are used to mark the items that protect the components of the device when people interact with them on the ground, such as a protective cover or pin to prevent movement of mechanical parts, stoppers, clamps, safety linchpins, and so on.
The presence of such a tag on a part means it must be removed before launching the device into the air or space. These warnings are extremely important where, because of inattention, one may have forgotten to remove the marked clamps or covers, which could cause a device malfunction that could lead to an accident.
There is a story about an Aeroperu aircraft that crashed because its captain did not remove the duct tape that was used to protect sensors while the aircraft was being washed on the ground. The duct tape was silver and blended in with the color of the airplane, so the captain did not notice it at night when the pre-start inspection was taking place.
To avoid such situations, the tags are bright red or yellow with white lettering REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT. The size of the tag also depends on the object it’s attached to – larger for airplanes and missiles, smaller for equipment such as imagers.
Our cameras also come with this tag. We use it to mark a special cover that protects the imager lense and which is important to remove before launching the satellite. This is the one last step that can derail the entire mission. If not to remove the cover, then the camera worth thousands of dollars will just be a piece of hardware in space. As a result, the satellite will not be able to perform most of the functions it was designed for.
This is how one little tag for 1.5 EUR can fail your mission and result in multi-million dollar losses. As you can see, there are no small or unnecessary parts in Aerospace, even if it is just a tag.