Discover how ESA builds and tests its satellites and technology

29 November 2004

If you have a good idea for a satellite, how do you translate it into a real space project? Developing a space project is a complex process and can take from five to ten years. In a new site launched today learn more about spacecraft engineering.

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The Concurrent Design Facility at ESTECAccess the image

To carry out this work, ESA has a large Technical and Quality Management team based at ESTEC, its European Space and Technology Centre in the Netherlands. It is their job to see if a new idea is feasible and work it out, step-by-step, together with European industry.

Building a satellite is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle as various parts, both electrical and mechanical, have to come together. Systems engineering is the discipline that looks at the puzzle as a whole, and quality management ensures its performance and safety. ESA’s activities in each of these disciplines are described on the new website.

ESA satellites are built by commercial companies accountable to an ESA project team at ESTEC. This team is closely concerned with all aspects of the construction work to ensure that the end result meets all the requirements.

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ATV under test at ESTECAccess the image

New satellites must undergo numerous tests before they can commence their mission in space. In the ESTEC test centre satellites experience the severe vibrations during a launch and are exposed to the tremendous noise a launcher generates during liftoff. Other tests involve exposing the satellite to extreme cold and heat to make sure they can cope with the space environment. Satellites in space are exposed to extreme temperature changes for protracted periods of time. To have some idea, imagine standing with your face in an oven and your back in a freezer, and being expected to function after years of this treatment!

These are just some of the tests and controls that satellites and technology have to undergo before a new mission is launched. All this data also has to be monitored and analysed to ensure that stringent safety and quality controls are all met. Throughout this long process, ESTEC specialists work closely with European space industry , developing and testing the technologies needed to make future projects possible. To learn more about technical and quality management at ESA visit www.esa.int/spacecrafteng.

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