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Mace facilitates the installation of giant satellite test chamber

Mace, the international consultancy and construction company, has facilitated the installation of a 16m long space test chamber, at the National Satellite Test Facility in Harwell, Oxford.

The enormous chamber will be used by the space industry to test spacecraft up to 7 tonnes for the harsh conditions of space. 

The chamber can be heated and cooled using nitrogen cooled shroud panels to achieve a temperature range of 95 Kelvin to 373 Kelvin to (-180 ֯C 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, and alongside other test equipment at the National Satellite Test Facility, will enable UK businesses to bid competitively for new contracts and remain a world leader in space technologies. 

Weighing more than 98 tonnes in total, the chamber was transported in sections on 6 lorries accompanied by 6 police outriders and 5 support vehicles. The convoy from Portsmouth Harbour to Harwell Campus was one of the largest single road movements the UK has ever seen.  

Each of the 8m diameter sections then had to be lifted into place and carefully positioned in order to be sealed perfectly later in the year. The final walls of the building will now be constructed around the chamber.  

Alongside the space test chamber, the National Satellite Test Facility will also offer vibration and pyro-shock equipment, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and antenna measurement system and acoustic testing. Construction will be complete in 2021 and operational from 2022.

Appointed through the Southern Construction Framework, Mace is also working with the STFC on a number of projects at Harwell Campus, including the Extreme Photonics Applications Centre (EPAC), pushing the boundaries of science and discovery.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:


“The UK is a world-leader in space technology and this impressive new chamber, backed by government funding, will significantly bolster our satellite testing capabilities.


Importantly, it will ensure that our space industry has the first-class facilities they need to test large, complex spacecraft as we work towards the UK’s first satellite launch.”


Sean Stewart, STFC’s National Satellite Test Facility Project Manager said: 

“The installation of the large space test chamber would have been an extraordinary endeavour at the best of times. In the current challenging circumstances, the team worked tirelessly through lockdown, first in Italy and then in the UK, to get the space test chamber into place. The final walls will now go up around the chamber and once complete, the National Satellite Test Facility will play a key role in securing end-to-end capability to build, test and launch satellites from the UK.”   

Nick Abbey, Frameworks Director at Mace, said:

“Enabling the installation of the large space test chamber has been one of the most challenging technical and logistical steps in delivering the National Satellite Test Facility. The teams successfully managed to transport and lift all the sections into place, fitting together the 98-tonne chamber. We look forward to completing this complex science project, which has required the multi-disciplinary expertise and tireless work of all our teams.”

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