With a flourish of pens, a key ESA lab has officially gained a new home. Last Thursday saw the signing of an agreement to relocate the Agency’s High-Power Radio Frequency Laboratory from ESTEC in the Netherlands to Valencia in Spain.
The laboratory will now be hosted by the Valencia Space Consortium (VSC), a non-profit organisation set up by Valencia’s two universities, its regional government and municipality. ESA and the VSC will contribute similar levels of resources to the Laboratory, with its existing equipment transferred on loan to the new locations.
The signing ceremony took place at ESTEC on 25 March. Michel Courtois, ESA Director of Technical and Quality Management, signed the contract with Francisco Camps Ortiz, President of the Regional Government of Valencia.
Other attendees included Alfonso Grau, First Lieutenant Mayor of the Municipality of Valencia, Francisco Tomás Vert, Rector of the University of Valencia, Francisco Jose Mora Más, Vice Rector of Planning and Innovation of the Polytechnic University of Valencia and Ramon Saenz de Heredia, Consul of Spain in The Hague.
“The High-Power Radio Frequency (RF) Laboratory is a centre of excellence for Europe,” said Director Courtois.
“Its specialised investigations of side effects of high-power RF signals in the space environment have long provided crucial support to ESA projects and the European space industry.
“The Laboratory’s move to Valencia will only increase the effectiveness of its support, giving it access to new facilities, resources and expertise existing on site. This move will also allow its utilisation to be maximised, not only for space but also other hi-tech domains.”
The facility will become the latest addition to ESA’s Europe-wide network of specialist external laboratories, such as Spasolab in Spain, Millilab in Finland, the European Space Tribology Lab in the UK, and the Microelectronics Technology Support Laboratory in Ireland. Its existing equipment transferred to the VSC, the Laboratory will be run by a basic team of technicians overseen by its current ESTEC manager.
High radio power can spell problems in space
It is difficult to overstate the importance of RF systems for space. Vital for communicating with and returning data from spacecraft, they also underpin global telecommunication and navigation services and – through radar and radio sounding – serve as tools for the scientific study of Earth and other planets.
“There is a continual push for higher RF range, bandwidth or data quality,” says David Raboso, Manager of the High-Power RF Laboratory. “Each new generation of satellites has much more powerful RF systems. Those of the early satellites worked at just a few watts each, but today’s big missions operate at power levels thousands of times higher. That is way past the threshold where harmful phenomena can start to occur.”
In the past quarter of a century the Laboratory has provided support to many ESA missions, from ERS and Envisat to Galileo and Alphasat. In April its work at ESTEC will conclude before restarting in Valencia this July.