The UK’s space sector has received a major piece of new equipment to help get larger, more complex satellites ready for launch. A 16m long, 98-tonne space test chamber, among the largest in Europe, has been installed at the UK’s National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
The chamber will test satellites weighing up to 7 tonnes (the size of a minibus) for the harsh conditions of space including extreme temperatures from -180֯֯C to +100֯֯C.
Operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space and located alongside other test equipment at the NSTF the aim is to enable UK businesses to bid competitively for new contracts and remain a world leader in space technologies.
Dr Joanna Hart, Harwell Campus space cluster manager, said, “Expanding the UK’s satellite testing capabilities is vital to ensuring the UK space sector can continue to grow in strength and numbers. Any space company can use this new ‘state of the art’ facility, on commercial terms, enabling more UK companies to take on large-scale projects and drive innovation across the sector.”
Matt Fletcher, RAL Space head of environmental test, said: “In addition to the current small, medium and large chambers RAL Space offers to the space sector, this new chamber vastly increases our capacity, allowing much larger space hardware to be tested. It will enable us to test even more of the satellites which serve our everyday life, from telecommunications satellites which transmit our TV signal to the satellites monitoring the health of our planet.”
The chamber completed a long and complex journey from Italy – transported in sections on six lorries accompanied by police outriders and support vehicles — the convoy from Portsmouth Harbour to Harwell was one of the largest single road movements the UK has ever seen.
Sean Stewart, STFC’s project manager said: “The installation of the large space test chamber would have been an extraordinary endeavour at the best of times. In the current challenging circumstances, the team worked tirelessly throughout the coronavirus lockdown, first in Italy and then in the UK, to get the space test chamber into place.
“The final walls will now go up around the chamber and once complete, the NSTF will play a key role in securing end to-end capability to build, test and launch satellites from the UK.”
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “The UK is a world-leader in space technology and this impressive new chamber, backed by Government funding, will significantly bolster our satellite testing capabilities. Importantly, it will ensure that our space industry has the first-class facilities they need to test large, complex spacecraft as we work towards the UK’s first satellite launch.”
Alongside the space test chamber, the NSTF will also offer vibration and pyro-shock equipment, electromagnetic compatibility and antenna measurement system and acoustic testing. It builds on the existing suite of environmental test facilities at RAL Space which include a further 10 space test chambers ranging from 1-5m diameter.
The chamber, due to open at Harwell in 2022, will be an integral part of the Harwell Space Cluster.