Satellites are expensive, and once in orbit they cannot be fixed. This is why a satellite must be tested thoroughly before it is sent to space. For example, the severe vibrations experienced during a launch are simulated in the ESA Test Centre at ESTEC. The satellite is also exposed to the tremendous noise a launcher generates to make sure that it will not be damaged during the launch.
In the space simulation facility, test engineers expose the satellite to the vacuum conditions and the extreme temperatures in space for several weeks. This checks whether the satellite will continue to function properly under these extreme conditions. Intensive testing goes on for months, until ESA is convinced that the satellite is capable of performing well for the whole of its planned lifetime.
Testing is expensive, too. The infrastructure and the equipment need to be maintained adequately to minimise the risk of damaging the hardware being tested and the people who work there. Continued investments are necessary to keep improving the existing facilities, and to train the staff on the work floor.
What does the Test Centre do? Its first role is to help ESA’s projects with measures - how the equipment works - and evaluating the prototypes. All projects need this, and the Test Centre allows satellites to go through all necessary tests, particularly the non-standard ones that industrial companies cannot do by themselves, in one location and with quick response times.
The second role of the Test Centre is to support investigations in case of failure or anomalies of the satellite parts, without the bias of industrial or national interests.
At ESTEC, technical staff get the opportunity to work with real space hardware or software and to be confronted with hands-on challenges. Typically, the Test Centre supports investigations with a critical schedule or with non-routine operations. Also, it offers unique services when an independent approach is required, or when there are special confidentiality constraints. For other types of non-critical investigations, the Centre uses a network of external laboratories.
The ESA Test Centre at ESTEC is a unique environment with state-of-the art facilities. It is serviced by highly trained staff, who work in close interaction with European industry. Support is available to address and solve project particular issues, problems and future developments. The ESA Test Centre is operated by European Test Services (ETS) onbehalf of ESA.
For more information please contact Gaetan Piret, ESTEC Test Centre Manager.
Gaetan.Piret @ esa.int