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  • Satellite Evolution Group

Thales Alenia Space has selected the UK’s National Satellite Test Facility

Thales Alenia Space has selected the UK’s National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF), at RAL Space in Oxfordshire, for the first comprehensive assembly, integration and test campaign of the European Space Agency’s FLEX  (Fluorescence Explorer) satellite.  

FLEX satellite will be used to map the fluorescence of the Earth's vegetation, which will provide a better  understanding of the Earth's state of health and vegetation productivity on a global scale. As prime contractor,  Thales Alenia Space will lead the satellite platform assembly, integration and test campaign planned in 2025,  following the receipt of the FLORIS (Fluorescence Imaging Spectrometer) innovative instrument.  Developed by Leonardo, this high-resolution imaging spectrometer will map the Earth's vegetation  fluorescence to quantify photosynthetic activity.


“We are delighted to lead the first test campaign for ESA’s FLEX satellite in the National Satellite Test Facility.  This activity builds upon our recent successful completion of the assembly, integration and test campaign of  the MicroCarb Satellite. The AIT of MicroCarb was carried out on behalf of the UK and French Space  Agencies and will be Europe’s first carbon monitoring mission” commented Andrew Stanniland CEO of Thales  Alenia Space in the UK. 

Matt Fletcher, Head of Environmental Test at National Satellite Test Facility, RAL Space, added : “FLEX is  a fascinating satellite and we’re delighted to be supporting Thales Alenia Space and ESA with its assembly  and testing. The National Satellite Test Facility was purpose-build for just this sort of ambitious project, and we’re looking forward to putting FLEX through its paces and preparing it for the rigours of space.” 

Information from FLEX will improve our understanding of how carbon moves between plants and the  atmosphere and how photosynthesis affects the carbon and water cycles. In addition, information from FLEX  will give us a better insight into plant health. This is especially important today since the Earth’s growing  population is placing increasing demands on the production of food and animal feed. It is estimated that there  will have to be more than a 50% increase in agricultural production by 2050 to meet demand. Understanding  plant health and productivity is therefore essential to managing resources. 

The FLEX satellite will orbit in tandem with one of the Sentinel-3 satellites (part of Europe’s Copernicus  program), also built by Thales Alenia Space. It will take advantage of Sentinel-3’s optical and thermal sensors  to provide an integrated package of measurements to assess plant health. 

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