Engineers build new space test chamber in the UK

A 16m long space test chamber has been installed at the National Satellite Test Facility, UK. This equipment will allow the UK to prepare new larger, more complex satellites for launch.

The National Satellite Test Facility is a government investment intended to build the UK’s largest set of co-located equipment, designed to test spacecraft for the harsh conditions of space. The facility is due to be opened by the Science and Technology and Facility Council’s (STFC) RAL Space in 2022.

How will the space test chamber be used?

The chamber will test spacecraft, weighing up to seven tonnes, for the extreme temperatures of space, which range from 180֯֯C to +100֯֯C. Operators can heat and cool the chamber using nitrogen cooled shroud panels.

The chamber completed a long and complex journey from the manufacturers Angelantoni Test Technologies Srl based in Massa Martana, Italy, to be installed in the facility at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. A team of specialist commissioning engineers will travel from Italy to Harwell to complete the installation and testing of the vacuum vessel later in the year.

Professor Chris Mutlow, Director of RAL Space said: “This has been an incredible feat of engineering and logistics. The installation of a facility of this scale is at the best of times fraught with complexities but this has been made even more challenging because of coronavirus. I am delighted that the chamber has completed its epic 5800km journey and is now safely in position in the National Satellite Test Facility where it will offer a new capability to the space community as part of the only set of co-located space test facilities at this large scale in the UK.”

How was the chamber be constructed?

Weighing more than 98 tonnes in total, the chamber was transported in sections on six lorries accompanied by six police outriders and five support vehicles. The convoy from Portsmouth Harbour to Harwell Campus was one of the largest single road movements the UK has ever seen.

Each of the 8m diameter sections then had to be lifted into place and carefully positioned in order to be sealed perfectly later in the year. The final walls of the building will now be constructed around the chamber.

Sean Stewart, STFC’s National Satellite Test Facility 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 through 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 National Satellite Test Facility will play a key role in securing end-to-end capability to build, test and launch satellites from the UK.”

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