National Satellite Testing Facility Gets 1st Clients

29th May 2023
National Satellite Testing Facility Gets 1st Clients

The UK’s space industry infrastructure is gaining a new, vital resource. The upcoming National Satellite Testing Facility (NSTF), a £116 million government-funded centre, is about to welcome their first customer, which is none other than aerospace behemoth Airbus. The facility will test Airbus’ large, next-generation satellites to ensure they can handle the challenging demands of space. Space UK will also utilise the site.

The rear of the space test chamber. Credit: RAL Space

NSTF & Their Role in Getting Satellites Ready for Space Travel

NSTF is a function of RAL Space, the space hub for UK Rese​arch and Innovation​. supporting its mission to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish.​” And now, they are leading the way in innovation, by building a cathedral-sized satellite testing centre at STFC RAL Space in the Harwell Space Cluster near Didcot.

National Satellite Testing Facility boasts the largest vacuum test chamber in the UK. RAL Space say satellites the size of a double decker bus will endure both continuous bouts of extreme heat and cold for prolonged monthly periods in the chamber. This is to emulate what it’s like to be in space and to travel to the Earth’s orbit. The centre also has a vibration room that is designed to replicate the conditions of a rocket launch. Additionally, the site also includes an electromagnetic chamber with 44,000 inwardly pointing foam spikes, and an acoustic test facility that can exceed 146 decibels. 

​​Dr Alan Partridge, STFC Executive Director of Large Scale Facilities and Head of STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, said in a statement:

The National Satellite Testing Facility is a cornerstone of our work to ensure the UK’s place as a world leader in Space science and technology.

Through partnerships such as this with internationally recognised companies like Airbus we are laying a strong foundation for our burgeoning space sector and creating the conditions for scientific innovation and economic growth for years to come.

Electromagnetic Compatability (EMC) chamber
Guests from UKSA and Airbus had the chance to visit the NSTF’s giant Electromagnetic Compatability (EMC) chamber, which is currently undergoing construction. Credit: RAL Space

Why was NSTF Needed?

In 2015, the UK Space Agency commissioned a Facilities Gap Study that exposed a critical need for a single, large testing area that has the capacity to test satellites in the heart of the UK. The study also found that the large-scale testing site would provide more commercial opportunities for satellite testing in the UK, and remove the need of using other similar facilities in the US and Europe. The facility was subsequently built with funds from UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and in a press release, RAL Space said: “The facilities will be commissioned during the second half of 2023, with the target of being fully operational by spring 2024.”

Airbus Defence & Space UK

The first two names on the roster for NSTF are Airbus Defence and Space UK. They have partnered with the upcoming satellite testing facility in a bid to utilise it’s impressive array of features. Being the first customer of NSTF, they will be able to exclusively see the work that can be done at the large-scale testing facility.

Skynet 6A

The first satellite that is poised to be tested at NSTF is Skynet 6A, a secure military communications programme and the latest payload from the UK’s Ministry of Defence. The satellite is currently in development and being constructed by Airbus Defence, and once the satellite is built, it will play an essential role in the UK’s security satellite network. The plan is to test Skynet 6A at NSTF once its construction is completed, to ensure it is up for the rough nature of its inaugural launch mission to space in 2025 aboard Space X’s Falcon Rocket. 

RAL Space National Satellite Testing Facility walk through – Credit: RAL Space

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