Sparkwing Installation Manual

12 December 2022
Learn more about how the Sparkwing philosophy #SpaceMadeEasy is embedded in the Installation Manual!

The Sparkwing philosophy is to make things easy for our customer. This resolution is embedded in every step of the way: from the moment the customer starts the conversation with us, through the proposal discussions, contracting, design finalization, delivery and integration.

As a showcase, our team wants to start with the end by presenting what it did with the installation manual. This is not the first thing a customer will see or ask us about. Nevertheless, this is a key component of the journey with Sparkwing.

Here’s an excerpt from our interview with our team members – Mark Bakker, Dieter Vleugels, Paul Spruit, and Marijn van Dijk who conceptualized and designed the installation manual for Sparkwing.


1. Tell us about the user manual for installation. Why is it different from the usual?

Let’s start with the usual: The customer often does not install the solar arrays themselves, or if they do that, they need a training first.  Traditionally, an installation manual is a thick book with many pages of text in small letters, which is not meant for newbies or to be easily read when you are performing the installation.

The Sparkwing user manual or installation manual is a ‘space meets Do-It-Yourself (DIY)’ manual that lays down the installation sequence in a clear, logical and visual manner using plain language. For example, we used a lot of 3D images – which are clearer than 2D images or real photos – to guide the person(s) installing the solar arrays as they do each activity. Points of consideration and warning calls are explicitly marked to draw attention to critical actions in certain steps.

We intend to have only 4 manuals: a 1-panel, 2-panel, 3-panel wing and body mounted version, regardless of the size ordered. This saves us a lot of time in writing a manual for every new project and is therefore cost-effective.

Besides, our ‘space made easy’ proposals and contracts at the very beginning of the Sparkwing customer journey, the user manual will form the ‘space made easy’ closure of the Sparkwing customer journey.


2. What common challenge are you solving for the users of this document?

Departing from the usual practice, Sparkwings will be integrated by our customer(s) and not by us. Both parties want a streamlined and cost-efficient process without the risk of having an incorrectly installed product on the spacecraft.

With our manual, we enable the customer to do the installation themselves using the document as a clear guide, avoiding misinterpretations, and without the need to have a lot of external support.

3. Are there comparable documents in the space industry that you know of?

We dare to say no!

For cubesat products, it is common to have DIY installation of solar arrays, and manuals do exist.

We regard the Sparkwing size to be a bit more challenging and complex. We are yet to come by a DIY manual that is as distinct as ours.

4. What motivated you (in your role) to do this?

The manual today is not version 1, not version 2 either, it took many iterations for everyone to get used to the idea and then to get it right. That said, as a team we are very proud of what we have delivered! More will follow for sure.

Read what personally motivated some of the Sparkwing team members.

  • Mark, Lead Engineer: I consider myself one of the Sparkwing guardians. A simple, user-friendly manual has been one of the key requirements for success, especially for making the step from supplier to customer integrated solar arrays. So from my role as lead engineer, for this challenge I may have mingled myself perhaps a bit too much into this AIT affair, but I believe (or hope!) my colleagues would agree that it has been an enjoyable team effort.
  • Dieter, Lead Engineer and Innovation Manager: While working on large solar arrays and even smaller ones, it always surprised me how long our teams (for good reasons btw) take to install a solar array. During the early stages of Sparkwing, I thought that for small solar arrays we can do better. As I was responsible for defining the customer needs and transmitting these to our development team, I put down that easy integration by the customer was a must! When Prusa, Lego, Ikea and many others can do it, why can’t the space industry?We tested some of our assumptions on a visit to a customer, where we put very early models of Sparkwing to the customer’s very early dummy model of the spacecraft and started discussing integration and their struggle on another platform. It became clear to me that we could and would do better. Although convincing others of that need wasn’t easy, I think everyone today would agree we delivered big time!
  • Paul Spruit, Engineer AIT: My own experience with reading text/ manuals of equipment were that you cannot familiarise yourself easily with it. Further, from my experience of training people using old – meaning bulky and text-heavy – user manuals, I could easily see what benefits a different kind of manual would bring.

5. Where did you draw inspiration from?

Prusa, Lego, Ikea, and basically any other company in the world outside of the space industry that sells products that the customer still needs to assemble. A few of us have had UX design courses.

More importantly, we were inspired by each other in the team. As a team we have a strong foundation built on openness, being innovative and having the same goal to make something new happen. Naturally, there were lessons to be learnt from each other’s experiences.


6. Would you encourage more engineers / … to follow your trend in the space industry? And why?

Yes, it creates so much clarity! It  is not just a nice-to-have, it will change our industry for the better if we take a user-centric or in this case, a customer-centric approach. We optimize resources – time, money and people – on both sides of business.

Even for non-technical people, it would be possible to integrate Sparkwing using this manual. The risk of making mistakes, even by technical people reduces significantly. It’s not just about the visual elements. We made sure there is only one logical way to integrate Sparkwings, from opening the box to launch. You have to pass every checkpoint. We also created the Quick Reference Guide for this purpose, because some of the additional activities didn’t fit into the main flow.

The effort to make these kind of manuals is relatively low if you have a good baseline document and a complete stepfile and the results are worth the effort.

Of course, with more complex solar arrays it will be challenging to make a manual in this detail and form. We are more likely to do the installation ourselves or give training. Nevertheless, this is a head start.