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Space Simulation

The extreme environmental conditions to which space equipment is exposed throughout its working life demands the highest available standards of materials and systems reliability. Ensuring the ongoing survival of space hardware requires that very thorough and detailed testing processes are conducted. The main aim of such exhaustive testing is to minimize the risks, since the value of a medium size satellite is of the order of hundreds of millions of euros/dollars.

The physical simulation of the satellite as a whole should approximate its actual working conditions to as close an extent as is practicable.

These conditions are extreme and variable: In space, far from the earth's surface, the pressure is around 1.10ֿ¹³ mbar. Outgassing from some satellite materials produces higher pressures nearby; typically around 10-7 mbar. Satellites exchange heat with an extreme environment through radiation: cosmic background temperature is just few K, but satellites receive radiation from the Sun, the Earth and other celestial bodies. At a height of 150km and 60º above the earth's equator, solar radiation has an intensity of about 1.4kW/m2, the solar radiation reflected on the earth about 0.39kW/m2 and the radiation generated by the earth's own temperature is 0.26kW/m2. The solar light spectral distribution and its reflection on the earth correspond to that of a black body at 6,000k whilst the earth's natural radiation corresponds to that of a black body at 260k. Direct solar radiation may be considered constant in any weather conditions but the earth's natural radiation and the solar radiation reflected in it vary with the meteorological conditions (cloud presence or not) as well as with the latitude and height over the entire surface. Finally, other electromagnetic radiation present in space and particle flows without intense charges and variable speeds are added to these visible and infrared radiations.

The simulation of such complex and environmentally variable conditions is technologically non-viable therefore the space simulation chambers are usually restricted to the vacuum simulation up to 1.10ֿ7 mbar, cold and visible and infrared radiation (-190ºC/+180ºC).