Mission accomplished for space technology


UK cleanroom specialist CRC reports on why it was over the moon when it was asked to work with Willmott Dixon Construction on building new cleanroom facilities at RAL Space for testing satellite instrumentation for use in future space missions

In space even a speck of dust can have catastrophic consequences. Dirt or dust on optics can cause defects in image frames or result in moving parts wearing out quickly or not operating properly. Even oil from a fingerprint could lead to a lens clouding up. When a satellite is launched, it is subjected to very violent vibrations so ensuring that a satellite is fit for launch is a critical phase in determining whether or not a mission will succeed. To minimise the risk of problems occurring, satellite components are assembled and rigorously tested in cleanrooms where vibration and thermal extremes can be simulated.

Developing designs and building a facility which can meet the exacting needs of those involved in testing space hardware like this is a huge challenge. Kent-based Clean Room Construction (CRC) is more than up to the challenge of completing a mission to deliver a space-age cleanroom facility at a new space test facility on the Harwell Campus, based in Oxfordshire.

Harwell is the nerve centre of the UK’s space industry and is home to RAL Space which is the space department of the Science Technology Facilities Council (STFC). RAL Space provides world-leading space research and technology development, space testing facilities, instrument and mission design capability as well as providing analysis and data processing facilities and leading conceptual studies for future missions. A 50-year heritage has seen involvement in more than 200 international space missions.

The STFC appointed Willmott Dixon Construction to design and build the new facility for RAL Space to house the UK’s largest and most sophisticated space design, production and research facilities. The facility is an extension to the company’s existing laboratory. As a cleanroom and controlled environment specialist with 50 years’ experience of designing and building specialist cleanroom facilities, CRC was brought in to work with Willmott Dixon Construction on the cleanrooms. CRC developed existing outline designs for the project and engineered ways of achieving the client’s meticulous requirements within a demanding timeframe.

Tall order: some of the cleanrooms built by CRC exceed 12m in height

Tall order: some of the cleanrooms built by CRC exceed 12m in height

CRC is preparing to deliver a suite of 15 cleanrooms to RAL Space which will be used for the assembly, integration and testing of sensitive satellite instrumentation for use in future space missions. Five changing areas have also been created as part of the facility. The site includes the largest thermal vacuum calibration facility in the UK. The thermal vacuum chamber – which has a massive 3m diameter and is 5.5m long – is capable of testing at temperatures between 77 K (-196°C) and 423 K (+150°C).

The new 1,372m2 facility built by CRC consists of Class 5 and 6 cleanrooms. The air inside a Class 6 cleanroom is 1,000 times cleaner than normal air and contains almost no particles smaller than a quarter of the width of a human hair or larger. The project represents one of the tallest cleanroom facilities ever built by CRC, with some of the ceilings exceeding 12m in height to accommodate the space-age equipment. In addition, the project has involved building cleanrooms with walk-on and suspended ceilings and a requirement for self-supporting modular wall panels including 6.5m by 6m roller door access.

Plasteurop partitioning, for which CRC has the exclusive UK rights, has been incorporated into the facility. Fan filter units, flush electrical and gas services provision, oxygen depletion alarms, interlocking systems for doors, lasers and window blinds and localised laminar flow also formed part of the complex specification. When fully operational later this year, three of the cleanrooms will have a black finish to enable optical testing and laser alignment projects to take place within the rooms.

The overhead gantry crane ready for the satellite testing equipment

The overhead gantry crane ready for the satellite testing equipment

Ian Isted, CRC Director, said: ‘A project like this requires the highest standards of design and construction from our experienced team of designers, engineers and managers. We are very proud to have worked with Willmott Dixon Construction on this exciting and innovative facility which will be out of this world when it is fully operational. It’s been a demanding and very technical project with a tight timescale but the success of the build is down to a positive collaborative approach from the outset.

‘CRC has a longstanding reputation for designing and building leading edge cleanroom facilities for clients right across the science and technology sectors and working on such a nationally significant space-age project has been very rewarding for our team. The space sector is a growth area for the UK and, with our experience and expertise in this field, CRC is looking forward to undertaking other similar missions.’

CRC is also responsible for the testing, validation and commissioning of the facilities.