National Satellite Test Facility Art Competition
25 Jan 2019







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Architect's drawing of the new NSTF building​

** Please note, this competition is now closed and the winners have been announced **

​We're building a brand new facility to test space craft to make sure they're ready to be launched into space. Inside this National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) we will shake spacecraft to make sure they can survive the journey to space in a rocket and bake them to make sure they can survive the extremes of temperature in space.

While we're building the National Satellite Test Facility, we'd like to put three pictures on display outside the building to help explain the work we will do once it's up and running.

We'd like to invite you to draw a picture inspired by one of the three questions below and provide a brief description of why you've drawn it:

  • "What does a satellite look like?"
  • "Where would you build a satellite?"
  • "Who builds a satellite?"

We're looking for your most imaginative, out-of-this-world ideas, so feel free to get creative! We've got some more information below to get you inspired.

The competition:

Open to everyone aged 5-11 years

Competition closes:

Midnight Friday 23rd November 2018


There will be one winner for each question. Each winner will get:
  • their picture displayed outside the NSTF construction
  • the chance to visit the current satellite test facilities and meet our expert space engineers
  • or a visit by a RAL Space scientist to their class or group
How to enter:
Post your pictures to:

NSTF Competition
Communications team at STFC RAL Space
R100 Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Harwell Campus
OX11 0QX

Or email a high resolution image to:
With the subject line: NSTF Competition

Entries must include:
  • Name of the artist
  • Age
  • Which category you have entered
  • Description of what you've drawn and why
  • If entering as part of a school or group, the name of your school or group
  • Contact email or your school group or parent
Please write this information on a separate piece of paper or in an accompanying email where the information can be easily matched to the picture.

Entries will not be returned and entry into the competition is taken as agreement that the image can be used and reproduced by STFC RAL Space and partners, alongside competitor name and age. It will also be assumed that you are happy to be contacted by RAL Space about the competition. No other details will be passed on and all personal information will be deleted or destroyed after the competition.

What does a satellite look like?

Satellites are machines made from super light materials. They power themselves using rectangular wings with solar cells that use sunlight as energy. They'll normally carry objects on board that can do certain jobs like:

  • Measuring temperature, rainfall, storms and helping to forecast the weather on Earth.
  • Carrying data across the world. This lets us use mobile phones, the internet and watch TV.
  • Creating the GPS system which is what your parents use for their SatNavs in their cars!
Satellites are launched on rockets into space. Examples of satellites include the International Space Station, which is the largest man-made satellite orbiting Earth - and where Tim Peake, ESA astronaut, worked!

There are four main parts to a satellite:
  1. A way to power it - this could be solar power (using sunlight to produce energy) or nuclear power.
  2. An antenna that sends and receives information.
  3. A payload. This is made up of science instruments and experiments - e.g. a camera, telescope or gas sensor.
  4. A navigation system, usually called 'Attitude and Orbit Control', that makes sure the satellite stays in its position or moves where it needs to be.
Although some satellites can be as big as a minibus and heavier than an elephant, some satellites are only 10 cm cubes (most phones are about 13 cm tall) and weigh as much as a pineapple!

Where would you build a satellite?
Satellites need to be made in pristinely clean conditions - this means no dirt at all. They're assembled in something called a 'clean room'. In h​ere, no bacteria, viruses or micro-organisms can enter the satellite. Satellites need to be protected against contamination as this can affect it from functioning properly. A clean room can look like this:
         15EC3684 RAL Space R100 clean room.jpg

After the satellite is made, it's tested in a 'vacuum chamber'. Vacuum chambers are the closest thing to testing the satellite in outer space. They're big cylinder chambers which are sealed and have all the air pumped out to make a vacuum, like it is in space. Here, satellites also need to be able to show they can withstand the extreme temperatures of space. Vacuum chambers look like this:

The National Satellite Test Facility will be a whole new building dedicated to testing space craft and satellites to make sure they're ready to be launched into space. It will have several vacuum chambers that look like the ones above, but even bigger! This is how big the new vacuum chambers will look in comparison to the size of humans:
           HVT460 LO PICTURES 05_small.jpg

Once we've proven that the satellite will work at the temperatures and environment of space, there is still lots of testing to do. For instance, we need to be sure that the satellite and all of the scientific instruments on it won't become damaged during launch.

To do this, we will use a large shaker table that will shake the satellite in the same way that it will be shaken when it's attached to a rocket! All of this happens indoors and without the satellite 'lifting off' from the Harwell Campus.

Who builds a satellite?
The people who build satellites are called 'engineers'. They could be trained as electrical, mechanical or aerospace engineers. Engineers are people who make things. This includes designing, testing and building the things they make. Engineers also figure out how stuff works and how they can improve what already exists in a design. Anyone can be an engineer - it could be you, your teacher, your grandma, your best friend .... just maybe not your dog!

One thing that really matters when you're building a satellite is to make sure you wear the correct clothes for it. Satellites need to be kept super clean to make sure no dust or dirt gets on it - in zero gravity, the smallest speck of dust could ruin a piece of technology onboard.

When engineers build or test a satellite, the uniform they wear​ is called a 'full body smock'. You'll need to wear a head cover, face mask, body cover, gloves and special clean room boots. Perfume, cologne, hair spray, nail polish and make-up aren't allowed in clean rooms. You are also not allowed to bring paper into clean rooms and ESPECIALLY not selfie sticks! Once you're dressed in all this gear though, you're good to go.

Here's when we got some people your age to dress up as the engineers that build satellites:

                                                       Cubs etc .jpg

Contact: Dimmock, Ellie (STFC,RAL,RALSP)