Commissioned by Alcatel Alenia Space, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has designed and constructed the RF Suitcase satellite testing system for ESA’s Herschel/Planck mission.

The purpose of the RF Suitcase is to demonstrate the RF compatibility between spacecraft and ground stations prior to launch and to test the uplink and downlink functional and performance characteristics.

Among others, the values of several tens of configuration parameters for the ground stations are determined, such that each ground station can immediately communicate with the two satellites, once they are released from the launcher.

The RF parts of the RF Suitcase operating in X-band are engineering models that are similar to actual flight hardware. A set of programmable RF attenuators is used to simulate the propagation losses between the spacecraft and ground stations over a distance of about 1.5 million km.

These RF parts together with a Telecommand and Telemetry Simulator are integrated into a single transportable cabinet. The cabinet includes a user-friendly control and monitoring subsystem that enables local and remote operation of the RF Suitcase.

The unit was initially supplied for tests in spring 2006 with the final tests at Herschel-frequency planned for summer 2007. Prior to the launch of the real satellites, which is scheduled for mid-2008, the RF Suitcase will be used in various complementary tests to demonstrate that communications between ground stations and the satellites will function.