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Enabling & Support

ESA Space Power Laboratory (ESPL)

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ESA / Enabling & Support / Space Engineering & Technology

What is its role?

A satellite without electricity is nothing but space junk. Often missions require a lot of electricity: power subsystems are increasingly running up to tens of kilowatts. A telecommunication satellite may have as many as 60 high-voltage transponders aboard, all of which have to operate reliably for 15 years or more.

The ESA Space Power Laboratory performs tests related to all aspects of satellite power systems and equipment, including power conditioning to manage and convert on-board electricity, solar generators based on photovoltaic cells converting sunlight into electrical power as well as space batteries to keep missions operational in all circumstances.

Cheops solar cells
Cheops solar cells

How is it organised?

The ESA Space Power Laboratory is organised into five facilities:

  • Accelerated Life Test Facility for thermal cycling and life tests of solar cells, cell assemblies and coupons
  • Solar Generator Characterisation Facility for characterisation of bare solar cells, cell assemblies, coupons and solar panels
  • Battery and Life Test Facility primarily devoted to testing both primary and secondary cells and batteries of any chemistry
  • Power Conversion Facility for power conversion design, prototype manufacturing, PCB design, electrical testing and failure investigation
  • High Voltage Facility for high voltage testing up to 6 kV, failure investigation and high voltage characterisation.
Glowing solar cell
Glowing solar cell

What services does it offer?

The ESA Space Power Laboratory provides independent and impartial evaluation of power systems, solar arrays and batteries. The main customers are ESA projects, research and development programmes (TDEGSTP and ARTES) and third party activities, known as TPAs.

How is it equipped?

The ESA Space Power Laboratory is made up in turn of two separate work areas, the Power Conversion Facility (PCF) and High Voltage Facility (HVF). The former includes – in addition to ten individually-equipped electronic work benches – specialised equipment such as solar array simulators for the verification of conventional and maximum power point tracking systems, network analysers for the evaluation of regulator performance and thermal cameras to evaluate thermal stress on operating units.

The High Voltage Facility includes partial discharge test equipment (AC), high voltage power sources – up to 60 000 volts for DC, up to 40 000 volts for AC and high current available – plus a combined thermal vacuum chamber and Faraday cage, with additional thermal and thermal-vacuum chambers, insulation testers and protected high voltage workspaces.

The ESA Space Power Laboratory has two main facilities in the Solar Generators domain, working in close cooperation with ESA projects, European industry, institutions and other ESA laboratories. The Solar Generator Characterisation Facility (SGCF) is for characterisation of bare solar cells, solar call assemblies, coupons and solar panels. The Accelerated Life Test Facility (ALTF) performs thermal cycling and life tests. The equipment includes:

  • Continuous light simulators for 3 and 4 junctions
  • Pulsed light simulators (flashers) for 3 and 4 junctions, for solar cells, coupons and panels. This equipment can be shipped abroad to perform testing in other premises.
  • Spectral response system to perform internal characterisation of multijunction solar cells.
  • Two thermal cycling chambers
  • A life test facility to cover the entire mission life with margin
  • Detailed visual inspection assisted with electroluminescence technique. Optical microscopy with metalographic resolution and dedicated photographic equipment are available to perform thorough visual inspections.
Battery and Life Test Facility
Battery and Life Test Facility

The Battery and Life Test Facility (BLTF) is organised around long-term lifetime testing stations for batteries and cells, plus vacuum test chambers, abuse test chambers enabling safe testing of small cells in critical conditions such as mechanical shock, short circuit or rapid charge and an inert atmosphere facility for battery examination.

The Labs have five full-time staff, including senior engineers who have more than 20 years of laboratory experience, in addiiton to young graduate trainees and stagiaires.

High Voltage Facility
High Voltage Facility

Who are its customers?

In operation since the 1970s, the ESA Space Power Laboratory is among Europe's leading facilities of this kind. It has a privileged independent position, providing services for many external customers including national space agencies, ESA prime contractors and power subsystem and equipment manufacturers.

The Lab's work has underpinned the fundamental power conditioning technology required for Earth-observing radar systems, high-powered transponders for European telecommunication satellites and ion engine technology For solar cells, the single most valuable contribution of the Lab is early characterisation of novel solar cell structures, communicating results to the broader European research and industrial communities.

Lastly, the Battery and Life Test Facility supports the evaluation of battery and cell performance for any type of mission, from early stage technology department to launch campaign preparation, even up to the disposal stage when knowledge of safety aspects is fundamental for space debris policy compliance.

How do I find out more?

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