Thales Alenia Space, a joint-venture between Thales and Leonardo, has chosen the UK’s National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) at RAL Space in Oxfordshire for the assembly, integration, and testing of the European Space Agency’s FLEX satellite.
The FLEX satellite’s purpose is to map the fluorescence of Earth’s vegetation, providing valuable insights into the planet’s health and vegetation productivity on a global scale. Thales Alenia Space, as the prime contractor, will lead the assembly, integration, and testing campaign in 2025 after receiving the FLORIS instrument developed by Leonardo. This high-resolution imaging spectrometer will map vegetation fluorescence to measure photosynthetic activity.
Andrew Stanniland, CEO of Thales Alenia Space in the UK, expressed excitement about leading the first test campaign for ESA’s FLEX satellite at the National Satellite Test Facility. He highlighted the successful completion of the MicroCarb Satellite’s assembly, integration, and testing campaign, which was Europe’s first carbon monitoring mission.
Matt Fletcher, Head of Environmental Test at the National Satellite Test Facility, RAL Space, also expressed enthusiasm for supporting Thales Alenia Space and ESA in assembling and testing the FLEX satellite. He emphasized that the facility was purpose-built for ambitious projects like this and looks forward to preparing FLEX for space.
The information gathered from FLEX will enhance our understanding of carbon movement between plants and the atmosphere, as well as how photosynthesis impacts carbon and water cycles. Additionally, it will provide valuable insights into plant health, which is crucial given the increasing demands on food and animal feed production due to population growth. By 2050, agricultural production will need to increase by over 50% to meet demand. Therefore, understanding plant health and productivity is essential for resource management.
The FLEX satellite will orbit alongside one of the Sentinel-3 satellites from Europe’s Copernicus program, also built by Thales Alenia Space. It will utilize Sentinel-3’s optical and thermal sensors to provide a comprehensive set of measurements for assessing plant health.