As space technology advances, the requirements for thermal performance and associated testing advances too. The environment of space creates many challenges. For instance, once a satellite is deployed it cannot be retrieved for servicing and must operate for months or years in the direct path of the sun.
Conventional on-board and testing temperature measurements are typically based on contact measurement techniques, meaning that a lot of wiring and electronics for data processing is necessary. Using thermal imaging overcomes many of these challenges, but it is a very difficult technology to use reliably due to reflections and changeable properties of the surface of interest.
NPL have embarked on several projects in the Space sector. The most recent of which is for the European Space Agency This project is intended to deliver a low cost, and low size, weight and power (SWAP), vacuum ready, metrology enabled thermal imager, with certified performance traceable to ITS-90.
The advantages of low cost low SWAP imaging cores has already led to them becoming an attractive option in many other sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing, automotive, where they are becoming ever more prevalent.
The transition from high SWAP high cost thermal imagers, typically cryogenically cooled systems, has advantages for the practicalities of implementation and cost.
The developed thermal imaging system will facilitate and enable use for the thermal vacuum testing of spacecraft, an innovation that will provide robust and reliable non-contact temperature measurement over a large cross section for multiple test applications, such as thermo-elastic deformation.