First UK Satellite Test Facility gains momentum

Three companies have been awarded contracts totalling £19 million for the construction of the site in Oxfordshire

Artist’s impression of the large space test chamber. Credit: Angelantoni Test Technologies

Three companies have been awarded contracts totalling £19 million for the construction of a major infrastructure for the National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) in the UK.

Established at the Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire, South East England, the NSTF is built and operated by the Science & Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) RAL Space on behalf of the UK government.

There are estimated to be 3,500 to 10,000 satellites due to be launched by 2025. To capitalise on this opportunity, the UK needs a world-class central facility with access to a comprehensive set of satellite test capabilities.

The three successful contractors will supply the large space test chamber, vibration facility, a combined electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and antenna measurement system

The contracts are the initial steps in meeting the UK space industry’s need for a set of co-located, world-class facilities for environmental testing of space payloads and satellites.

The three successful contractors will supply the large space test chamber, vibration facility, a combined electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and antenna measurement system.

Satellite test facilities at this scale, in one location, do not currently exist in the UK. Once operational in 2021, the NSTF will provide the space sector across the UK with all the major testing facilities they need under one roof, without incurring expensive international shipping costs.

The NSTF will expand and complement the existing RAL Space facilities at the heart of the Harwell Space Cluster.

Sean Stewart, NSTF project manager, RAL Space, said: "Alongside the existing RAL Space assembly, integration and validation facilities, the NSTF will put all the test equipment needed by industry and academia in one place and accessible to everyone. Awarding these contracts is one of the early and hugely significant milestones towards building the NSTF.”

Meet the contractors

The large space test chamber (pictured above) will be built by Angelantoni Test Technologies and delivered in six large loads to be assembled onsite at the NSTF.

With an internal, usable size of seven-metre diameter by 12-metre long, the chamber will be the largest of its kind in the UK and amongst the giants of Europe.

The chamber has a temperature range of 95K to 400K, providing the conditions needed to test a variety of complex science missions as well as commercial satellites for Earth orbit.

A consortium led by NSI-MI Technologies LLC will provide the combined electromagnetic compatibility and antenna measurement system. This facility will provide an electrically clean environment so that a satellite's electromagnetic emissions can be accurately measured.

It will also contain a planar near-field scanner to measure the performance of antennas used for communications between the satellite and ground stations.

Team Corporation will build the vibration facility (pictured below), capable of testing satellites up to 7 tonnes using two electro-dynamic shakers. To realistically simulate the mechanical loads experienced during a rocket launch, one shaker will operate in the vertical plane (Z axis), while the other will operate horizontally (X and Y axes). Each shaker is capable of developing 222 kN (50,000 lbs. force) of thrust.

Artist's impression of the vibration facility, vertical system. Credit: NVT Group

These major facilities will be joined by capabilities for testing for centre of gravity and moments of inertia, pyro-shock and acoustic testing.

The UK government is investing £99 million to build the NSTF as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to support UK businesses and academia as they bid for more national and international contracts to build bigger and more technologically advanced satellites.

The main contractor for the construction of NSTF is Mace Group. Construction of the actual building is due to start in November 2018 and the build programme will run through to the spring of 2020.

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