Give a name to ESA's zone of silence

March 31, 2014
ESA's Compact Payload Test Range for antenna testing. Metal walls screen outside radio signals while spiky foam interior cladding absorbs radio signals internally to create conditions simulating the infinite void of space. Credit: ESA-Anneke Le Floc'h

Kept isolated from the external Universe, a special ESA chamber simulates the boundless emptiness of space for testing satellite antennas. Recently refitted, it is in need of a new name. Come up with a winning suggestion and you can visit it for yourself.

Long sporting the workaday name of Compact Payload Test Range, this chamber at ESA's technical heart in the Netherlands is a crucial part of the Agency's ability to check antennas attached to complete five-tonne satellites.

Metal walls block out all external electromagnetic signals such as TV and radio, radar and even mobile phone calls. And the chamber's interior walls are clad with spiky 'anechoic' foam cladding to absorb internally.

A lot of internal noise is similarly absorbed – making for a notably hushed workplace as engineers prepare items for testing, most recently ESA's latest Galileo satellites.

The Range is more than 25 years old, but bearing in mind the needs of future ESA missions it was recently refitted," explains Luis Rolo, overseeing the facility.

""It has now become one of the few antenna test ranges in the world able to measure the performance of large antennas using near-field and far-field techniques inside the same anechoic chamber.

"Most equivalent sites focus on one measurement type or the other. So we are looking for a new name to reflect this new dual capability."

ESA's Compact Payload Test Range for satellite antenna testing incorporates a pair of carefully shaped carbon fibre reflectors that transform the spherical expanding radio signals coming to or from the satellite into a straight signal beam as though from far away in space. This feature means that ‘far-field’ measurements equivalent to long-range testing can be reliably carried out even in a chamber of limited size – which is where the ‘compact’ in the name comes from. Credit: ESA

A pair of carefully shaped carbon fibre reflectors transforms the spherical expanding radio signals coming to or from the satellite into a straight signal beam as though from far away in space.

This feature means that 'far-field' measurements equivalent to long-range testing can be reliably carried out even in a chamber of limited size – which is where the 'compact' in the name comes from.

Then, last year, the Range gained a state-of-the-art 'near-field scanner' to measure the electromagnetic fields in the immediate vicinity of a test antenna or complete . Either the scanner or the test item itself can be moved to build up a complete map of its 'near-field' radiation patterns.

"These near-field measurements can then be mathematically processed to model their equivalent far-field performance," adds Luis. "Both classes of testing can cover a broad range of frequencies, offering huge versatility to our internal and external customers."

Suggest a name

The competition to suggest a name is open to any citizen of ESA's Member States. Just email your suggestion plus a short explanation to estecpr(at), including 'COMPETITION' in the header.

The winning suggestion will receive a tour of ESTEC, including the Range, and a collector's copy of the large format photo-book, The ESA Effect.

Explore further: Zone of silence: Testing satellite antennas

Related Stories

Zone of silence: Testing satellite antennas

April 12, 2013

( —Satellite engineers learn to get used to the weirdly hushed interior of the Compact Payload Test Range in ESA's ESTEC technical centre area, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. In this zone of silence, satellite ...

ESA to certify first Galileo position fixes worldwide

March 13, 2014

To mark the first anniversary of Galileo's historic first satnav positioning measurement, ESA plans to award certificates to groups who picked up signals from the four satellites in orbit to perform their own fixes.

Catching signals from a speeding satellite

March 7, 2014

Soaring high above Earth as they speed through space, satellites are difficult targets to track. Now a new approach developed in Europe is helping ground stations to acquire signals faster and more accurately than ever before.

New breed of satellites

June 25, 2013

( —These pictures give the first detailed views of the next batch of Galileo satellites, the first of which has already been delivered to ESA for rigorous testing in simulated space conditions.

In-orbit validation of Galileo achieved

February 11, 2014

( —The in-orbit validation of Galileo has been achieved: Europe now has the operational nucleus of its own satellite navigation constellation in place – the world's first civil-owned and operated satnav system.

Recommended for you

Cassini transmits first images from new orbit

December 7, 2016

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn's atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn's northern hemisphere, including the planet's ...

ExoMars orbiter images Phobos

December 7, 2016

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has imaged the martian moon Phobos as part of a second set of test science measurements made since it arrived at the Red Planet on 19 October.

Earth's days getting longer: study (Update)

December 7, 2016

Earth's days are getting longer but you're not likely to notice any time soon—it would take about 3.3 million years to gain just one minute, according to a study published on Wednesday.

Curiosity rover team examining new drill hiatus

December 6, 2016

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is studying its surroundings and monitoring the environment, rather than driving or using its arm for science, while the rover team diagnoses an issue with a motor that moves the rover's drill.

Cassini makes first ring-grazing plunge

December 6, 2016

NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft has made its first close dive past the outer edges of Saturn's rings since beginning its penultimate mission phase on Nov. 30.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.