National Physical Laboratory

Shaken, not stirred: Micro-vibration device tests ESA satellites

The European Space Agency (ESA) has added a micro-vibration test instrument developed by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) to its satellite testing facilities. The instrument measures vibrations caused by satellite subsystems, to limit their effects on measurements made from space.

The micro-vibration test instrument in use
The micro-vibration test instrument in use

Satellites are vulnerable to vibrations, as they reduce the resolution of images and the accuracy of measurements made over great distances. You may have experienced a similar effect if you've ever tried to take a photo with a zoom lens and an unsteady hand.

Many common elements of satellites can create vibrations, such as spinning reaction wheels, solar array drives and rotating cryocoolers – ESA needs to be able to test and correct for these jitters to improve the accuracy of its Earth observations.

To make such testing possible, NPL has developed a micro-vibration platform for ESA that can measure vibrations made by subsystems to an unprecedented degree of accuracy – so sensitive it can measure the force of a single dropped feather. The platform also generates small, controlled forces and torques to shake satellite instruments and components in six degrees of freedom (6DoF).

The lower section of the platform isolates it from vibrations from the surrounding environment, such as footsteps and even waves from the nearby North Sea, allowing the upper section to measure micronewton-scale vibrations free from interference. The platform is housed in a tent to limit perturbations caused by airflow, and can also be used in a vacuum. The instrument will be used to measure and correct for internal vibrations, and to test satellite components under a range of controlled vibration conditions.

The platform is the culmination of five years' work by Charlie Jarvis, Dan Veal, Ben Hughes, Peter Lovelock and NPL Engineering Services, and will be fully commissioned and running by June 2016. Dan Veal, NPL Instruments Business Manager, commented:

"This facility is the result of five years of hard work and partnership between NPL and ESA. It demonstrates NPL's capability to design and commission commercial-grade instruments, and will help give confidence to ESA and the European space community in the critical area of micro-vibration measurement."

The 6DoF microvibration platform will be used by ESA at its European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwiijk, Netherlands.

Find out more about NPL's Dimensional research

For more information, please contact Dan Veal

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Last Updated: 20 Apr 2016
Created: 31 Mar 2016

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