National Physical Laboratory

NPL helps ESA gain ISO quality stamp

Cosmic radiation is a threat to a spacecraft's electronics, so irradiation by gamma rays is one of the most crucial tests carried out on candidate spacecraft components to confirm their suitability for space flight. Gamma radiation from a cobalt-60 source is a standard method for simulating exposure to the cosmic particles encountered in orbit. The facility replicates the lifetime effects of cumulative radiation doses, with accelerated testing to simulate years of exposure within just a few days.

Spacecraft such as satellites need to be tested with
exposure to gamma rays to confirm they are ready
for space flight

The European Space Agency (ESA) has its own cobalt-60 source at its ESTEC technical and engineering centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, where it tests spacecraft components, with the high level of measurement confidence required by its customers.

NPL's Radiation Dosimetry group worked closely with the ESA team to help them develop the measurements and procedures necessary to achieve an independent accreditation to the ISO 17025 standard - General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.

The process was a lengthy one, with initial discussions back in 2007, and NPL played the crucial role of external adviser, coming up with ways of improving not just methods of testing, but also their accompanying technical documentation.

The Impact

In practical terms, this now means all ESA projects and external customers using the facility can be sure its results have well-defined uncertainty margins, following testing and quality procedures that adhere strictly and transparently to international standards.

With space an ever-more international endeavour, different partner countries can apply these results with full confidence, knowing they are completely reproducible and repeatable.

Find out more about NPL's Dosimetry research

Find out more about NPL's Radiation Dosimetry facilities

Find out more about ESA's cobalt-60 irradiation facility

For more information, please contact Peter Sharpe

Last Updated: 24 Jul 2012
Created: 19 Oct 2011


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