Satellite Test Chamber

UK space sector gets a boost with the installation of a giant new satellite test chamber.

We were asked by the chamber supplier to manage the logistics project of moving the new space test chamber from the manufacturers based in Massa Martana, Italy, to be installed in the STFC facility at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. The 16m long chamber is amongst the giants of Europe and will be used to test larger more complex satellites for harsh climates in space.

Weighing more than 98 tonnes in total, the chamber was transported in sections on 6 Low Loaders. Each section, 8 meters in diameter, presented many issues and challenges along the route. Each of the 8m diameter sections then had to be lifted into place and carefully positioned to allow for specialist welders to weld each section together to form a vacuum tight seal.

Another large challenge that we had to overcome was COVID, as this was carried out during the height of the first lock down in April 2020.

The delivery of the 59 components that make up the chamber was carried out firstly by charter vessel from Ortona in Italy to Portsmouth Harbour, and then by road under police escort and accompanying support vehicles to Harwell. The convoy was over a mile in length once everything was in place.

The logistics element took two years to plan and involved hundreds of personnel and stakeholders, including Highways England, Hampshire Police, Local Authorities, Haulage & Crane Hire Companies and not least Portico (The owners of Portsmouth Docks) who enabled us to widen one of their main entrance gates to 10 metres wide so we could exit from the Port without any issues.

We also worked with local authorities and various highways contractors to temporarily remove street furniture along the route to get the convoy safely through to its final destination at Harwell.

We successfully delivered all components of the chamber ready to be assembled so that the specially designed building could be constructed around the chamber.

The chamber will be up and running for use by 2022 and will be able to be heated and cooled using nitrogen cooled shroud panels to achieve a temperature range of 95 Kelvin to 373 Kelvin (-180 C֯ to +100 C)֯ so that satellites can be tested for missions into the chill of deep space or near to the Sun. It will be operated by STFC’s RAL Space, alongside other test equipment at the National Satellite Test Facility. This will enable UK businesses to bid competitively for new contracts and remain a world leader in space technologies.

For more details on how the Space Chamber will affect the UK and the space industry please find further information here.

“This has been an incredible feat of engineering and logistics. The National Satellite Test Facility 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.”
Professor Chris Mutlow, Director of RAL Space