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Oxfordshire’s National Satellite Test Facility welcomes Airbus

Harwell’s National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF), the UK’s new £116m centre for testing large, next-generation satellites, will soon welcome Airbus Defence and Space UK as its first customer.

STFC RAL Space will operate the cathedral-sized facility which allows companies to test whether satellites will withstand the brutal conditions of space travel. It features the UK’s largest vacuum test chamber, where satellites the size of a double decker bus will be exposed to extremes of hot and cold for months at a time, and a vibration facility that replicates the conditions of a rocket launch.

Signing the inaugural contract in front of the vacuum chamber’s giant doors, Dr Sarah Beardsley, Director of RAL Space, said: “It’s hard not to come into the NSTF and be awed by the sheer size and scale of what we’ve built. It really is the facility that the UK space industry have needed for some time. Airbus has long been one of our closest partners and have been central to helping us get the NSTF ready, so we’re delighted that they’ll be the first to put the new facility through its paces.”

Plans for the NSTF began in 2015, when a Facilities Gap Study run by the UK Space Agency found that there was a critical need for a single, central large-scale testing site based in the UK that gave companies an alternative to similar facilities in the USA and Europe. Built with funds from UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the site includes an imposing electromagnetic chamber that features 44,000 inwardly pointing foam spikes, and an acoustic test facility capable of producing 146 decibels – far louder than the loudest rock concert. The facilities will be commissioned during the second half of 2023, with the target of being fully operational by spring 2024.

Paul Britton, Chief Executive of the Thames Valley Chamber of Commercecommented: “The space cluster within Oxfordshire is a globally recognised one, this is one of the many reasons why foreign companies such as Airbus choose to collaborate and partner with the world leading companies within our region. The level of talent, innovation and potential in our region, create the fertile conditions for growth and development which will continue to attract companies in the future.”

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, said: “The National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) is a significant addition to the UK’s growing space infrastructure that will improve the support available for companies across the breadth of the UK space industry, which employ thousands of people across the country.

The brand new facility, the first customer of which will be Airbus Defence and Space, will also help attract new businesses of all shapes and sizes to Harwell and the UK. This will catalyse investment and accelerate the development of new technologies for decades to come – from advanced satellite manufacturing to secure communications, navigation and Earth observation.” ​

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