Tackling Global Challenges: Reducing Cost for Spacecraft Testing 

The global space market is experiencing a renaissance, with more investment than ever coming from different countries around the world. The sector is predicted to be worth more than €400 billion by 2030, with plans for many thousands of satellites to be launched, providing numerous high-value, high-impact services to support governments, business and society as a whole.

However, space is still a costly arena, so reducing the overall expense of infrastructure to ensure services are affordable and readily available is a grand challenge for the sector to tackle.

It isn’t only the launch that accumulates cost. A significant proportion of the effort and financial burden within the space supply chain is at the Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) stage of a spacecraft. Ensuring that the spacecraft will operate to desired performance in the harsh environment of space still requires extensive on-ground testing and calibration in large test facilities, in representative space environments to specific sets of standards.

At NPL, the UK’s National Measurement Institute, we’ve been working with the European Space Agency and Europe’s test centres and we are at the forefront of developing a whole new range of testing, calibration and measurement technologies to ensure that there are facilities for future spacecraft to be tested, at a fraction of the effort and cost required currently, but still to maintain the high level of confidence that the traditional methods offer. We also know that payload instruments are becoming more complex and sensitive and the desire to use modern technologies such as additive manufacturing, data analytics, mega constellations and high-frequency communications are more real than ever. On top of this, we ensure that the people who operate them have the skills and training in place to realise the full impact of new ways of working and have complete confidence in how they carry out their measurement and testing tasks.

thermal imageAt stand E90 at Space Tech Expo Europe, NPL will be showcasing its 3D thermography testing technique, the only method enabling non-contact true temperature qualification of whole satellites and subsystems, and demonstrating a new system designed to increase customer confidence in the adoption of cutting-edge propulsion technologies. The new Micro-Newton Electric Propulsion Thrust Measurement System is the first of its kind to provide independently accredited performance. These are designed to significantly improve the verification of satellites and their subsystems.

NPL is in a unique position to be able to develop such technologies and draws on the latest ideas, research and innovation from all sectors to benefit the space industry. With over 40 years’ experience within the space industry, we’ve solved problems from the smallest vibration to the biggest mission objective – challenge us to solve yours.

The National Physical Laboratory will be exhibiting at Space Tech Expo Europe 2017 in stand E90