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UK’s National Satellite Test Facility blasts into orbit


The UK’s first ‘one-stop shop’ for large satellite testing finally has lift-off. The National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF), operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) RAL Space, has been set up to test spacecraft of up to seven tonnes in preparation for space travel. It’s capable of testing minibus-sized satellites under similar conditions to those they will meet on their space explorations.

The UK Space Agency has just signed a contract to use the NSTF for testing the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Ariel payload. Contracts have also been signed with Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space to test ESA’s FLEX Earth observation satellite and SKYNET 6A, the latest satellite in the UK Ministry of Defence’s secure communication programme.

The new facility is based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus and forms part of the STFC-supported Harwell Space Cluster. Space-like conditions

During the test conditions, satellites are shaken violently to simulate rocket launch conditions as well as ‘baked’ in the UK’s largest space test chamber to check their resilience to extreme temperatures, both in the Earth’s orbit and beyond. The NSTF also has an electromagnetic compatibility and antenna test chamber for testing satellites’ communications systems securely.

The UK is investing more than £100m in the NSTF to strengthen the UK’s position as a world-leading satellite manufacturer and help deliver the national space strategy.

“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,” said Andrew Griffith, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, “By simulating the tough conditions of launch and orbit through rigorous testing, 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.”

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