MicroCarb leaves Harwell’s RAL Space ready for launch

After spending just over a year at RAL Space at Harwell Campus, MicroCarb has been delivered from Oxfordshire to Toulouse, where it will stay before being shipped for launch.

Climate change is an increasingly pressing issue, yet a lack of data currently makes it difficult to measure how much carbon dioxide (CO2) – the principal greenhouse gas – is absorbed by and released into the atmosphere. MicroCarb is the first European mission designed to quantify sources and sinks of COto gain deeper insights into our impact on the carbon cycle and inform future climate models.

The satellite arrived at RAL Space in December 2022 ahead of a successful assembly, integration and test campaign led by Thales Alenia Space in the UK. This involved a series of vibration, shock and thermal vacuum tests supported by RAL Space facilities and testing teams. Now, successfully qualified for space, MicroCarb will be temporarily stored at Thales Alenia Space’s facility in Toulouse before launch preparations begin.

MicroCarb undergoing vibration tests at RAL Space. Credit: CNES / Benoit Cerantola

MicroCarb’s arrival in 2022 wasn’t the first time RAL Space had encountered the mission, which is a collaboration between the UK Space Agency and the French space agency, CNES. RAL Space worked with partners to design, qualify and deliver the satellite’s Pointing and Calibration System (PCS), which is crucial for the spacecraft to measure reliable and accurate data, and also provided the multi-layer insulation for the satellite to ensure it will endure the extreme temperature environment of space.

Dr Sarah Beardsley, Director of STFC RAL Space, said:

“Teams across RAL Space have worked on MicroCarb for many years, from the design and build of the Pointing and Calibration System and Multi-Layer Insulation, to more recently supporting Thales Alenia Space with their successful test campaign using our facilities.

We’re delighted to see the satellite one step closer to space and are thrilled for our colleagues and partners who have worked so hard to achieve this crucial milestone.”​

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: 

“MicroCarb’s advanced technology will deliver invaluable and precise data on our planet’s carbon dioxide levels and marks the latest exciting innovation by the UK’s ground-breaking space sector in collaboration with our friends in France.

“Once operational it will inform businesses and decision-makers around the world on the role they can play in tackling climate change and as the technology develops, open new avenues for UK businesses that grow our economy.”

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:

“MicroCarb’s departure to France is an exciting next step in its journey to space, where it will gather crucial information to improve our understanding of the carbon landscape on our planet and the impact of carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas caused by human activity.

“Over half of the critical measurements on climate change rely on satellite data and it’s a testament to the expertise of UK scientists and engineers – both at Harwell Space Cluster and across the country – that we are playing a central role in such an important mission.”