National Satellite Test Facility: frequently asked questions
07 Mar 2022




Vacuum test chamber inside the NSTF

​​​​​Vacuum test chamber inside the NSTF

Credit: STFC RAL Space

The National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) provides a complete suite of facilities for the testing of large space payloads and satellites. The facility supports companies developing the next generation of large, complex spacecraft, enabling them to be tested in the UK. 

For more information or to enquire about using our facilities, please email:​ or complete our Enquiry Form

Below are some frequently asked questions:

Booking and access

Who owns the NSTF?

The NSTF is owned by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental government body and parent organisation to RAL Space.  Funding for the NSTF was provided by the UK government from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Who can access the facilities in the NSTF?

The NSTF is open to all.  Access is managed via individual commercial contracts for each satellite test campaign.

How is the access to the NSTF different from the facilities RAL Space already has? 

The NSTF has been purpose built in response to demand from industry, and access is enabled via individual commercial contracts. The existing RAL Space facilities have been engineered for our needs; however, we are delighted to offer their use for external companies and have a range of mechanisms in place.  Please submit an enquiry if you would like to know more about our other facilities.

Is the NSTF open to users outside of the UK, and is there accommodation nearby?

Yes, the NSTF is available to anyone. The various facilities at the Harwell Campus host visitors from around the world on a daily basis and we have a team to help you source accommodation suitable to your needs.

How do you access the facilities?

Access to the NSTF is managed via a commercial contract for each individual satellite test campaign. Please connect with our business development team ( and they will support interactions with the technical teams through our proposal process, from initial enquiry through to completed contract.

How are bookings handled?

Access to the NSTF is managed via a commercial contract for each individual satellite test campaign. Please connect with our business development team ( and they will support interactions with the technical teams through our proposal process, from initial enquiry through to completed contract.

What information do you need to give a proposal?

Access to the NSTF is managed via a commercial contract for each individual satellite test campaign. Creation of a proposal is based upon a detailed test specification, which forms part of our proposal process.  Please connect with our business development team ( to learn more.

Does my equipment have to be space hardware?

No, however, it will need to be suitable to be put into a space test facility. Maintaining cleanliness and minimising contamination are of primary concern for space hardware, which is our core focus. Our technical teams can help to assess your requirements, please connect with our business development team ( to learn more.

What happens if the test campaign dates change?

We recognise that test campaigns are challenging, and we aim to provide flexibility wherever possible. If the new requested dates are free, then we accommodate the change. If the dates are not free due to another customer, we will try to agree alternate dates which suit everyone. If this is not possible, then the customer who has requested a date shift will be offered the next available slot. Changing the dates for a test campaign is not a cancellation.

Are there cancellation charges?

Yes, in the unlikely event bookings are cancelled, dependant on the timing of the cancellation notice, charges will apply. Changing the dates is not a cancellation.

How many individual client projects can be accommodated at once within the test facility? If acoustic and vibration tests are using the same space, how will this be scheduled? 

Two satellite test campaigns can be supported simultaneously within the NSTF, enabled by the two customer cleanrooms, which is the main constraint on capacity for the facility. Small individual tests may be possible to schedule whilst we have customers occupying both cleanrooms. Scheduling the facility use is a complex activity, and something with which RAL Space is very familiar as we have operated facilities for many decades. Once contracts have been signed, access to the NSTF is dealt with as per the contract terms agreed.

Using the facility

Who operates the NSTF?

RAL Space operate the NSTF. RAL Space is a department of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), one of nine funding councils of UKRI.

How is the handling of the satellite organised?

The customer is in charge of all handling operations for their hardware (satellite and ground-based equipment). Cranes can be used by customers as long as suitable in-date certification can be provided demonstrating competence. RAL Space staff will induct customers on the crane controls. RAL Space staff can operate cranes lifting customer equipment, but only under direct instruction and supervision by the customer.

Is there storage at the facility?

Storage of any sort is very limited. There is a limited amount of clean storage available which can be used by customers by agreement at contract stage. Non-clean storage may be possible via separate arrangement.

What facilities are available for customer personnel?

Within the NSTF itself customers will be allocated a dedicated office area, accommodating up to 30 people. In addition, a small, shared kitchen area will be available.

The NSTF is located on the Harwell campus, which offers a range of onsite capabilities. Beyond this, Didcot and Oxford provide a wider range of services.

How do you manage test campaigns?

Each campaign will be allocated a dedicated Test Programme Manager, who is the primary contact point during the execution of the contract. Tests are led by the various expert technical groups.

Will you adapt your facilities for our needs?

Yes, adaptions to the existing facilities are entirely possible. RAL Space has the engineering capacity to make adaptions.

Do you have standard terms and conditions?

Yes, please contact our business development team (​ for more details.

Do you insure our hardware?

No, this remains the responsibility of the satellite owner at all times.


What quality assurance is in place for the testing activities?

We operate the test facilities to ISO 9001, EN9100 and are in the process of gaining ECSS-Q-ST-20-07C accreditation.

How do you minimise contamination from cranes in the clean room?

We have used stainless steel for all moving parts. In addition, we have installed trays and catchers under all lubricated parts. 

What mass can be accommodated on the TVAC loading trolley? 

The loading trolley will be compatible with an item under test of 5500 kg (dry) with a centre of gravity 3.2 m above the separation plane.

Will you accommodate clients' probable/possible need to bring their own ground support equipment to measure other radio frequency (RF) parameters of their payloads?

We expect customers to bring their own ground support equipment. Where customers wish to do something where the NSTF standard offering is not compliant, we can work with customers to adapt/modify our offering. Any adaptions will be considered with due regard to the future facility use, safety considerations and economic viability.