Satellite testing facility opens in Oxfordshire

A large satellite testing facility in Harwell has been officially opened and is set to welcome its first customers.

The National Satellite Test Facility, based at the Harwell Space Campus, will ensure spacecrafts up to seven tonnes can withstand the harsh conditions of space.

Operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council RAL Space facility, it simulates rocket launch conditions by violently shaking mini-bus-sized satellites.

Oxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility vacuum chamberOxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility vacuum chamber

Oxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility vacuum chamber

The National Satellite Test Facility vacuum chamber (Image: Science and Technology Facility Council)

The facility also features the UK’s largest space test chamber to check the satellite’s resilience to extreme temperatures they will face in Earth’s orbit and beyond.

Officially opened on May 21, the ceremony was attended by Science and Technology Facilities executive chair, professor Mark Thomson, director of RAL Space, Dr Sarah Beardsley, and UK Space Agency CEO, Dr Paul Bate among representatives from leading UK space sector companies.

To mark the opening, the UK Space Agency has been announced as the latest customer to sign a contract to use The National Satellite Test Facility for testing of the European Space Agency’s Ariel payload.

This is the first time that the UK will have a comprehensive set of large scale space test facilities all under one roof.

Oxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility vacuum chamber electromagnetic compatibility chamberOxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility vacuum chamber electromagnetic compatibility chamber

Oxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility vacuum chamber electromagnetic compatibility chamber

The National Satellite Test Facility vacuum chamber electromagnetic compatibility chamber (Image: Science and Technology Facility Council)

It is home to a dynamics suite, where satellites will be subject to sound levels replicating that of a rocket launch.

A seven metre diameter space test chamber will simulate the vacuum and temperature conditions of space.

It also features an electromagnetic compatibility and antenna test chamber where satellites’ communications systems can be tested securely.

Andrew Griffith MP, minister for space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “The opening of the new National Satellite Test Facility is a significant milestone for the UK’s growing space sector that will offer the tools necessary to innovate for years to come in a competitive global market.

Oxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility control roomOxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility control room

Oxford Mail: The National Satellite Test Facility control room

The National Satellite Test Facility control room (Image: Science and Technology Facility Council)

“It will increase the resilience of our satellite technology to drive forward advances in navigation, weather forecasting and more – positioning our sector at the forefront of pioneering new space technologies.”

Professor Thomson, said: “UK satellite manufacturers will now have a state-of-the-art one-stop test facility on their doorstep.

“The National Satellite Test Facility will also enable the UK to support major international efforts in fields including space exploration and Earth observation.”

Dr Bate, added: “Once a satellite is in orbit, the options are limited if something goes wrong.

“That’s why having world-class facilities that can simulate the harsh conditions of launching and surviving in space is so important.”

The National Satellite Test Facility has already generated 30 new jobs in the Oxfordshire area, including several apprenticeship and graduate opportunities.

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