Need to know how a particular item of equipment will stand up to the rigours of space? The team at ESA’s Mechanical Systems Laboratory stand ready to help.
Seen from left to right: engineers Jürgen Eisenbraun, Carl Hall, George Varewijck, Stéphane Roure.
Based at ESA’s technical heart ESTEC, beside the North Sea shore of Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the Mechanical Systems Lab simulates the harsh conditions of space in order to assess the mechanical and thermal performance of key spacecraft elements.
Performing around 70 tests per year, the Lab fills the gap between individual component and material testing and the full-scale spacecraft testing taking place next door at the ESTEC Test Centre.
It is equipped to perform thermal vacuum testing as well as mechanical vibration testing. This first type of testing simulates the vacuum of space along with its associated temperature extremes (typically ranging in the Lab from –270ºC to +550ºC), while the second replicates the violence of a rocket launch.
Beyond standard operations, the Lab has the flexibility to react quickly to any space project in need, rapidly customising new types of tests as required.
Recent activities include assessing the efficiency of different types of multi-layer insulation intended for ESA’s Mercury mission BepiColombo, as well as verifying the resilience of similar insulation material for LISA Pathfinder, one of the most precisely-controllable spacecraft ever to be flown, testing techniques for future gravitational wave detection.
The thermal design of an instrument for ESA’s ExoMars lander has also been put to the test, evaluating the ’thermal decoupling’ used to ensure delicate electronic systems are kept as isolated as possible from the bitter martian night.
Similarly, solar cells to be used on ESA’s JUICE Jupiter mission are being submitted to the extremely low temperatures of deep space, far away from our Sun.
And the Huygens probe’s 2005 parachute descent onto Titan is also being recreated, to better understand the exotic environment of Saturn’s largest moon.
To contact the Mechanical Systems Lab manager, Bernd Lehmann: