How to cook a spacecraft
27 February 2013
The faint aroma of hot metal filled the surrounding cleanroom as the hatch to ESA’s newest test facility was slid aside, concluding a 23-day ‘bake-out’ of the largest segment of ESA’s mission to Mercury.
Ending on the early hours of 14 February, this test ensured ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter – MPO, part of the multi-module BepiColombo mission – was cleaned of potential contaminants in advance of its 2015 mission to the inner Solar System.
The bake-out took place at ESA’s technical heart, ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, which includes a dedicated Test Centre equipped to simulate all aspects of the space environment.
MPO will fly to the innermost planet with Japan’s Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter, riding together on ESA’s propulsion module. But not before getting cooked first.
“Being close to Mercury and experiencing high temperatures, the release of molecules from spacecraft materials is expected to occur at higher quantities than for normal satellites,” explains Jan van Casteren, BepiColombo Project Manager.
“Such molecules are a contamination threat if they condense on sensitive surfaces, so we need to minimise outgassing in order to protect our delicate scientific instrumentation on the spacecraft.”
So an initial bake-out of the various spacecraft segments is essential for cleaning purposes – in this case MPO’s ‘Proto-Flight Model’, incorporating its propulsion system and heat pipes that regulate its temperature.http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Technology/How_to_cook_a_spacecraft