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Skills

The main tasks of the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) are public service and research in the field of space aeronomy.

To study the physics and chemistry of the Earth and planetary atmospheres and of the interplanetary space, ground-based, balloon, rocket and satellite instruments are used. Especially the remote sounding of the chemical composition of atmospheres using spectrometric methods from the ultraviolet to the infrared spectral range and from ground and space borne platforms is one of the main expertise fields.

The BIRA-IASB engineering team plays a major role to achieve the scientific goals. They are responsible for the design and manufacturing of the necessary instruments in collaboration with Belgian industrial partners and for the technical support of the scientists. Their know-how includes all the steps from an idea till a fully operational instrument:

Project management

The design and development of scientific instruments or instrumental components require planning and coordination. The combination of various tasks is a real challenge for which the different partners involved, both engineers, scientists as industrial collaborators, need to be tuned.

The BIRA-IASB engineering team has experience with the complete project management. They are able to guide the project through all the different phases, necessary to construct ground-based and space instruments.

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Electronic design and manufacturing

Electronics play a key role in many space borne or ground based instruments because these instruments are often remotely controlled by digital telecommands, produce digital data or have some internal intelligence.

In the development phase, Computer Aided Design (CAD) and printed circuit board design are used. Also, design of analog and digital breadboards and of FPGA electronics are among the possibilities.

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After the design, some prototype and engineering components are manufactured at BIRA-IASB. Other manufacturing processes are carried out at partner companies.

The Laboratory for Electronics of BIRA-IASB has in-house facilities and tools for the major electronic design phases (see Facilities).

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Mechanical design and manufacturing

Instruments need a structure to protect the essential electronic and optical components. Most instruments contain also mechanical parts, necessary for their functioning. This is the domain of the BIRA-IASB mechanical engineers and technical staff.

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They use several software packets for 2D and 3D mechanical design, such as CoCreate OneSpace Designer. The computers used for design are connected to milling machines so that the design can be manufactured directly.

The Workshop for Mechanics of BIRA-IASB is well equipped for the design and construction of mechanical parts dedicated for ground, balloon or space borne instruments (see Facilities).

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Testing

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The mechanical and electronic accessories, both the ones constructed in house as the industrial parts need to be tested before they are build in the instrument. Therefore, test facilities in industry or at ESA, such as thermal vacuum chambers, are used.

But also at the institute, the engineers have a wide range of testing equipment at their disposal. More information can be found in Facilities.

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Software

Nowadays almost all space instruments contain some microprocessor or FPGA based internal intelligence. The software design team of the Engineering Department has long term experience in the development of software for such embedded systems.

To operate ground-based and space instruments, suitable software is necessary. Space instruments and often also ground-based equipment are controlled from a distance.

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The software therefore needs to involve multi-display handling of telecommands, telemetry and housekeeping, and is often LabVIEW based.

Also, tools for problem solving have to be foreseen.

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Operations and data management

Once a space instrument is launched and brought to full operation, a new range of tasks pops up. All observations need to be carefully planned in advance. The instrument in-flight operations are dependent on different parameters, such as measurement conditions, and the good functioning of the instrument is completely dependent on the conscientious execution of the telecommands.

The return of the huge amount of data is also a challenge. The data need to be arranged and stored. They also have to be converted in formats, accessible to the scientists. Good data archiving is necessary to facilitate the work of the scientists, analyzing the data.

Thanks to their experience with several space missions, the engineers are able to cope with this assignment.

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Maintenance

Ground based equipment and test versions of space experiments often last long. To keep them in excellent condition, maintenance on a regular basis is indispensable. Since most instruments are the work of the BIRA-IASB engineering group, they are best placed to perform this task.

Besides instrumental maintenance, the team is also involved in maintenance of the institute’s buildings and in ecological and safety issues.

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