How the Satellite Applications Catapult replicates space on Earth

How the Satellite Applications Catapult replicates space on Earth

Sellafield power station in Cumbria is one of the UK’s most hazardous environments, full of nuclear waste and irradiated buildings – not the most promising place for high-tech R&D. But that is where an off-the-shelf industrial robot found itself during historical tests, swapping materials handling duties in a factory for a stay in a highly reactive area.

The tests might have indicated that parts could be useful in space, manipulating satellites or assembling structures in orbit. Instead, the severe radiation caused components to fail within six months, showing they were insufficiently ‘hardened’ for the harsh environment. Rather than shooting for the stars, the robot found itself unceremoniously abandoned in one of the power plant’s cooling pools. 

Today, robotics and satellite testing are more sophisticated – and much more important, as the number of satellites being launched rises dramatically and they play an increasingly central role in communications, climate-change studies, logistics and more. According to the United Nations, humanity launched 2,163 objects into space in 2022, up from 134 in 2012. 

That rise, driven largely by SpaceX Starlink satellites, is also increasing the risk of space debris, which will require some advanced solutions. The Satellite Applications Catapult is putting satellites to the test to ensure that they can tackle the problems of the future. 


Advanced Manufacturing Week

8-12 July 2024

Additive manufacturing, 5G networks, augmented reality and more – a wide range of novel technologies are finally maturing and finding vital applications in the most cutting-edge and productive factories. As manufacturers navigate challenges including supply chain disruption, sustainability demands and economic uncertainty, engineers need expert knowledge of new approaches to efficiency and innovation.