Twinkle’s cooling system passes tests

A new, compact cooling system that will be used on the Twinkle spacecraft has undergone recent tests at the Science and Technology Facilities Councils (STFC) RAL Space facility.

Twinkle’s instruments need to be cooled so that the detectors measure radiation from the planet, rather than emissions from the satellite itself.

Twinkle will incorporate a compact, low-cost cooling system built by STFC Technology, which has a 30-year track-record in providing cooling technology for successful space missions. The system will cool down the Twinkle detectors to -200 Celsius (70K). Radiators will deposit unwanted heat out into space, ensuring that Twinkle has the uncontaminated platform it needs to make observations.

Traditionally, cryogenic coolers for scientific missions have been bespoke-designed, which has meant that they are prohibitively expensive for low-cost missions. The ‘Small Scale Cooler’ has been developed by STFC to provide sustainable access to active cooling for a new generation of small missions, at a price several orders of magnitude below those currently available.

The Small Scale Cooler will fly for the first time on LOCUS, a small satellite that will use very high frequency electromagnetic waves to probe the chemistry of the uppermost layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. In September, the coolers for LOCUS had their first tests at approximately the relevant temperature, in vacuum conditions and with all their connected harnesses and wires.

Dr Martin Crook from STFC told us: “As part of the Thermal Vacuum tests, two of these coolers operating in parallel were integrated with a dummy detector in a flight-like configuration for the first time. The coolers operated flawlessly throughout the tests and gave us a better understanding of the coolers and how they work.”

Dr Giorgio Savini, Twinkle’s Payload Lead explains, “This is all good progress towards the coolers’ actual use in space by missions including Twinkle. More widely, it’s a demonstration that compact, low-cost, off-the-shelf technology will be able to support a new era of affordable astronomy and space science missions.”