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Mace's UK National Satellite Test Facility project moves forward

Contracts worth £19 million have been awarded for the first of the major facilities for the National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) which is to be built and operated by the Science & Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) RAL Space on behalf of the UK government. 

Mace is the main contractor for the NSTF, appointed by the STFC last year through the Southern Construction Framework. At the same time, Mace was also appointed by the STFC to deliver the new Rosalind Franklin Institute, also located on the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. 

The contracts are the first steps in meeting the UK space industry’s need for a set of co-located world-class facilities for environmental testing of space payloads and satellites. The three successful contractors will supply the large space test chamber, vibration facility and the combined electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and antenna measurement system. 

Satellite test facilities at this scale, in one location do not currently exist in the UK. Once operational in 2021, the NSTF will provide the space sector across the UK with all the major testing facilities they need under one roof, without incurring expensive international shipping costs.

The NSTF will expand and complement the existing RAL Space facilities at the heart of the Harwell Space Cluster. This major national infrastructure will support the UK’s space sector as it seeks to capitalise on the estimated 3,500-10,000 satellites that are due to be launched by 2025. 

The combined electromagnetic compatibility and antenna measurement system will be provided by a consortium led by NSI-MI Technologies LLC. This facility will provide an electrically clean environment so that a satellite's electromagnetic emissions can be accurately measured. It will also contain a planar near-field scanner to measure the performance of antennas used for communications between the satellite and ground stations. 

Team Corporation will build the vibration facility, capable of testing satellites up to 7 tonnes using two electro-dynamic shakers. To realistically simulate the mechanical loads experienced during a rocket launch, one shaker will operate in the vertical plane (Z axis), while the other will operate horizontally (X and Y axes). Each shaker is capable of developing 222 kN (50,000 lbs. force) of thrust.

The large space test chamber will be built by Angelantoni Test Technologies and delivered in six large loads to be assembled on site at the NSTF. With an internal, usable size of 7m diameter by 12m long, the chamber will be the largest of its kind in the UK and amongst the giants of Europe. It has a temperature range of 95K to 400K, providing the conditions needed to test a variety of complex science missions as well as commercial satellites for Earth orbit. 

These major facilities will be joined by capabilities for testing for centre of gravity and moments of inertia, pyro-shock and acoustic testing. 

The UK government is investing £99 million to build the NSTF as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to support UK businesses and academia as they bid for more national and international contracts to build bigger and more technologically advanced satellites. Construction of the actual building is due to start in November 2018 and the build programme will run through to the spring of 2020.   

Rob Bridges, Mace’s Project Director for the National Satellite Test Facility, said: 

“Mace is very proud to be working to deliver this important project for the Science & Technology Facilities Council, which will be a huge boost to the UK’s space and satellite industry. These contract awards mark a major step forward for the project. We are working closely with the STFC and our supply chain to prepare for our start on site later this year.”  
 

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