Infrastructure and equipment

The Walloon Government grants funding of €7.4m to the Centre Spatial de Liège to develop the FOCAL 7 project


In Research Business and Innovation
 Integration of the Aeolus satellite with its Aladdin instrument in Focal 5, Courtesy ADS, Nov-Dec 2017 test, launch in August 2018.

On the proposal of the Minister for Research and Innovation Willy BORSUS, the Walloon Government has just awarded the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL), research center of the University of Liège, a research grant of 7.4 million euros to expand its infrastructures and to accommodate FOCAL 7, a new vacuum chamber with a diameter of 7 meters and a length of 12 meters in an ultra-clean environment.

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or more than 50 years, the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL), a research centre of the University of Liège, has acquired experience in the calibration and characterisation of optical instruments in thermal vacuum conditions that is internationally recognised and has become a world reference in this field. Calibration tests in a thermal vacuum environment being very often one of the last steps in a space project, the quality of the services that CSL can offer to industry is of prime importance.

The growth of the space industry and the importance of the availability of specific test facilities mean that an increase in capacity - in terms of the test facilities available in Europe - is necessary for the main industrial players in the sector such as Airbus, OHB and Thales Alenia Space, as well as for the European Space Agency (ESA). Indeed, Airbus recently indicated that its preference for setting up these additional resources would be with CSL, which is recognised for its competence and experience in this field.  The extension for a period of 3 years of the cooperation agreement with Airbus, initiated in 2000, is clearly supporting this statement.

As a university research center, the CSL must be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to be able to carry out future space research and development projects and meet the technical challenges associated with them. The CSL should therefore see this situation as an opportunity to adapt and expand its research and testing infrastructure in order to continue to supporting the industry with services and products of high quality that meet the ever-increasing stringent needs of the space sector.

A project, led by Benoit Marquet, Project Manager and Projects Coordinator at the CSL, and a team of CSL specialists, started in 2019 to define the technical content to be produced.

The project is articulated around two main aspects :

  • The extension of the clean rooms in order to reorganise the testing activities in the vacuum chambers and to have dedicated work areas adapted to the optical systems integration and research and development activities of the laboratories.
  • The installation of a new large vacuum chamber (7 meters in diameter), to meet the needs of future missions and to support existing facilities  whose occupancy schedule is already full today. This chamber is used to simulate the space environment for testing satellites or satellites payloads.

The Walloon Government, on the proposal of Mr. Willy Borsus, Minister of Research and Innovation, has just announced a €7.4 million subsidy for the CSL. This substantial funding will make a major contribution to the project by covering the acquisition of the Focal-7 vacuum chamber equipment.

This grant is obviously a very important contribution and is part of a set of co-funding that will have to cover the entire budget needed to carry out the project. The CSL also benefits from very strong support at the federal level through the scientific policy (BELSPO) which depends on Minister Dermine's cabinet. A national subsidy of 5 M€ had already been allocated to the CSL project and voted during the last ESA ministerial conference in Seville in November 2019. ESA is also another important sponsor given the need of this new vacuum chamber for many European space projects.

This facility will be very useful for future space projects in Earth observation and for large-scale scientific missions. In Earth observation, CSL is notably involved in the Copernicus missions. These provide the space instruments necessary for Europe in its management of its resources and for environmental monitoring in terms of pollution and management of greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, scientific missions always require the development of new instruments with unprecedented performance. Verification of the performance of these instruments therefore requires specific installations and very often tests in extreme temperature conditions. The size of scientific instruments (observation telescopes, for example) is also constantly increasing and requires larger test facilities.

Around this large Focal-7 chamber, the project also includes the extension and modernisation of the clean room workspaces required to carry out the CSL's research and development projects. A large number of projects are in fact carried out as a service to industry or in collaboration with industry, whether at the Walloon, Belgian or international level. Around space projects, the various CSL laboratories have developed expertise that today proves very useful in many fields of application, even outside the space sector. In addition to the construction of this new Focal-7 chamber, the CSL extension project therefore also aims to strengthen and develop these technological research activities.

The availability of the new CSL facilities is expected to be available for 2023.

Focal7 CSL

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