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Installing the UK’s largest space test chamber

07 August 2017

The £1 million chamber is being installed at a premier satellite testing facility and will help ensure the UK remains a world leader in space technology.

Installation of the test chamber (Credit: RAL Space)

The chamber has been paid for by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and once installed, will be used to test world-class satellites such as the Sentinel 5.

Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, said: “This new test chamber puts the UK ahead of the game internationally when it comes to being able to test spacecraft and satellites. “We are looking forward to welcoming some of the world’s most exciting space technology to our test facilities, where they will be put into the hands of our incredibly skilled staff.

“This addition to our facilities, coupled with the expertise of our staff, illustrates what makes the UK a global leader in the space industry.”

This is the second test chamber to be installed at STFC’s RAL Space in Oxfordshire and it’s the biggest in the UK and one of the largest in Europe. When complete, it will simulate the conditions and extreme temperatures spacecraft may have to operate in. It is capable of reaching temperatures ranging from -180 to +120°C while maintaining the vacuum of space. The vacuum is also situated within a specialised cleanroom environment, which is required for the preparation and installation of the items that will be tested within the facility.

Manufactured in Northern Spain, the chamber embarked on a 1,000 mile journey to its destination in Oxfordshire. Delivered via two lorries, each transporting a half vessel each at roughly 24 tonnes, it was finally installed on Thursday 27 July and aligned with a 300 tonne seismic block which will protect the chamber from external vibrations. Spacecraft don’t experience vibrations in space so it’s necessary to prevent any movement from affecting the tests. 

The process will be complete May next year, in time for the instrument for the ESA/EU Earth observation satellite, Sentinel 5, to be tested.

Video depicts the test chamber being delivered and installed at RAL Space (Credit: RAL Space)

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