ESA and the National Physical Laboratory in the UK have developed a novel 3D imaging approach for spacecraft testing, building up a complete spacecraft shape from a network of thermal cameras.
The vacuum of space is a place where it is possible to be hot and cold at the same time, with for instance one face in sunlight and others in the shade. The challenge for mission designers is to keep their spacecraft operating amid such simultaneous temperature extremes.
Thermal vacuum testing recreates such a situation on the ground: placed inside vacuum chambers, test spacecraft undergo prolonged exposure to the nothingness of space and a wide range of temperatures. Thermal imaging cameras play an important role in gathering contactless data on spacecraft surfaces, along with thermal sensors embedded within the spacecraft interior.
The project was supported through ESA’s Technology Development Element, exploring promising new ideas for space.