Materials & Electrical Components Laboratory

Made up of more than 20 dedicated experimental facilities and hundreds of instruments overall, the Materials & Electrical Components Laboratory guarantees an optimal choice of electrical components, materials and processes for ESA missions and external projects. The capabilities of the lab consider the unique environmental challenges involved in building for space, and, additionally, investigating failures to ensure that similar issues do not occur on future missions.  

The laboratory enables testing, analysis and measurement of space materials and EEE components to determine their suitability for space flight applications, by evaluating the effects of the space environment. Here, all of the unique environmental challenges involved in building for space are considered and failures investigated, to ensure issues do not occur on future missions. The team routinely assesses EEE components and manufacturing processes, and characterises all physical and chemical properties of the involved materials. It verifies and qualifies their use and investigates the causes of failures, providing impartial and independent testing, expert knowledge. This is achieved using the unique equipment support service only made possible at ESA-ESTEC.

The laboratory, with its team of highly trained engineers, is ISO 9001 certified, and its Co-60 radiation facility is accredited to ISO/IEC 17025. Additionally, it serves as a certification authority for space materials and processes (M&P) in Europe.

The Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory invites projects from all backgrounds to conduct non-routine work using our confidential and impartial services and products. 

For general enquires regarding this TEC location please refer to the assigned contacts:

Paavo Heiskanen

Radiation Hardness Assurance and Component Analysis Section

Riccardo Rampini

Materials Physics and Chemistry Section

Thomas Rohr

Materials and Processes Section
For testing requests, access to lab facilities, training and consultancy services, please refer to:


TPA Management system

Optimal choice of electrical components, materials and processes for ESA missions and external projects

Expertise for performing test, analysis and measurement of space materials



Over their lifetime, materials, components or small assemblies must withstand different environments without decreasing performance or experiencing degradation. In particular, in orbit, parts are subject to many potentially damaging factors, including UV radiation , X-rays, charged particles and orbital debris strikes. Frequent switching from scorching sunlight into bittercold shadow –thermal cycling- must be withstood, while atomic oxygen found at the top of atmosphere is inherently erosive/corrosive.

In some cases the synergistic impact of combined environmental effects has unpredictable consequences. The environmental test laboratory uses unique test facilities to replicate one or more detrimental factors of the space environment, including dedicated facilities for synergistic testing. For long-duration missions lifetime testing may not be practical, so facilities are also set up for accelerated testing to extrapolate results.

The environmental test laboratory has facilities for:

1.1 Atomic oxygen erosion effects 

The atomic oxygen facility, called LEOX (Low Earth Orbit Oxygen), produces a flux of atomic oxygen to evaluate erosion effects on materials

Instruments & technical parameters

Atomic oxygen (AO) produced by dissociation of molecular O2 using pulsed CO2 laser

Beam quality and AO kinetic energy monitored by mass spectrometer

Atomic fluxes: around 1·1020 atoms/cm2 per day

Typical AO energy: 5.5 eV

AO beam angle with respect to samples: 0-90

Background pressure during exposure: <10-5 mbar

Dimension of samples: typically 21X21 mm2 possibility of adaptation for bigger samples

Sample transfer to XPS or other exposure facility in vacuum

1.2 UV/VUV radiation 

UV-VUV testing can be performed on several facilities under high vacuum conditions. UV radiation used ranges from 120 up to 400 nm. Several vacuum facilities can be used such as, CROSS1,CROSS2, CROSS3, BOF and MCROSS facilities

Instruments & technical parameters

Cross facilities (1, 2, 3 and MCROSS)

UV/VUV radiation from 115 nm to 400 nm up to 13 UV Solar Constants Thermal ageing up to +400 C

Extreme thermal cycling from –150 C to +400 C (or higher in some cases) In-situ thermal imaging of samples

Residual gas analysis of gas contamination (mass spectrometer)

Pressure in the range of 10-5 - 5.10-7mBar

Max size of the sample is 200x200 mm. Height is up to 150 mm

Outgassing condensable contamination product monitoring via QCM

Nominal samples size: 19x19 mm2- changeable to fit sample plate dimension 140x160 mm2

Accelerated UV exposure facility (BOF)

UV/VUV radiation from 115 nm to 400 nm up to 20 Solar Constants

Infrared registration of sample temperature –150 C to 500 C (patented 2D IR imaging)

Residual gas analysis of gas contamination (mass spectrometer) 

Pressure in the range of 10-5 to 5x10-7 mbar

Max size of the sample is 200x200 mm. Height is up to 150 mm

1.3 Temperature and humidity 

Thermal cycling and thermal ageing of spacecraft materials to extreme temperature and humidity levels is conducted here. Thermal vacuum facilities are based on a high vacuum furnace design attached to a vacuum chamber. Nitrogen purged and atmospheric conditions available. The facility contains a shroud, cooled via liquid nitrogen, with the purpose of condensing possible molecular contaminants released from the hot area of the chamber, where samples can be heated up to 1100 °C. The main purpose is to simulate the thermal ageing of samples up to extreme temperatures. 

Instruments & technical parameters

High temperature furnace Entech:

Temperature up to +1600 C

Ambient pressure (air or GN2)

Samples: 10x10 cm2 - Height: 100mm

Humidity test chambers:

Humidity: 10-95%

Temperature: -70 °C to 180 °C

Samples: 50x50x50 cm3



Space hardware must be kept rigorously clean: any contamination could endanger instrument performance, mission success or astronaut health. Organic materials give off trace chemicals which, in the vacuum of space, can cause molecular deposition and even the thinnest of layers may affect contamination sensitive equipment such as telescope mirrors or laser lenses, solar array or thermal control surfaces. In enclosed pressurised environments , airborne contamination is the concern, as astronauts must not be exposed to toxic substances. Contamination by dust and debris - even sloughed-off skin cells- may cause beam scattering or affect the working of propulsion or mechanical devices. The Material's Physics and Chemistry Laboratory offers expert advice on cleanliness and contamination control, quantifies particulate & molecular contamination levels, audits cleanroom facilities tests materials, flight hardware for their contamination potential and performs bake-outs. 

The laboratory is a unique collection of specially-designed facilities. 


2.1 Screening Outgassing Facility (μVCM) 

Measurement of the outgassing screening properties of space materials or components based on ECSS-Q-ST-70-02.

Instruments & technical parameters

Micro-VCM material screening outgassing test facility (μVCM)

Quantitative gravimetric measurement

TML - Total Mass Loss

CVCM - Collected Volatile Condensable Material

RML - Recovered Mass Loss

WVR – Water Vapor Regained

Screening Outgassing Facility (μVCM) 

Sample Cups

  • Per sample cups per material are tested
  • Per test run specimen cups used for reference
  • Weight range: 100-300 mg

Test validity for materials:

Subjected to operational temperature of 125 °C for a short period of time 

Subjected, during the mission, to temperature below 50 °C for an extended period of time (in the order of hours) 

Subjected to operational temperatures below 50 °C for an extended period of time (in the order of weeks or above) 

2.2 Dynamic Outgassing Facilities

Measurements of the dynamic outgassing properties of materials or components by monitoring mass change as a function of time and temperature. The technique provides mathematical parameters for long term predictions calculations & modelling tools by testing geometrically representative samples in vacuum. VBQC and DOK facilities are based on ECSS-Q-ST-70-52.

Instruments & technical parameters

Quantitative study of the kinetics as a function of temperature

TML - Total Mass Loss

CVCM - Collected Volatile Condensable Material

Acceleration factors

Activation energies

Residence time-temperature dependency

Condensable material collected on QCM’s (Quartz Crystal Microbalances) *ASTM 1559 compatible.

*All systems can be coupled with residual gas analyzers


Temperature range: 

ambient to 450 C 

Sample size: 

Ø50 mm x 75 mm

Working pressure:

vacuum 10-7 mbar 


1 microgram


QCM needs to be re-evaporated every 100 mg TML



The Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory maintains numerous facilities to carry out various analyses and tests to ensure reliable EEE Components (Electrical, Electronic and Electro-mechanical) on ESA missions and external projects. From the smallest passive EEE part to the most complex integrated circuit, the laboratory offers an outstanding testing capability. Recently, new capabilities for battery analysis have been added to the portfolio. The laboratory offers services in the areas of:

  • Failure Analysis 
  • Destructive Physical Analysis
  • Reliability Analysis
  • Radiation Effect Characterisation

The laboratory focuses on tasks that are non-routine, are ESA project schedule critical, require independent and impartial support, and require specific confidentiality constraints.

The following facilities are employed to assess EEE Component reliability:


3.1 Scanning Electron Microscopy and Focused Ion Beam Facility: nano-scale investigation of semiconductor devices.

Scanning Electron Microscopes and Focused Ion Beams are employed to expose manufacturing processes of EEE components.

The latest technologies are frequently investigated in the ESA components laboratory, not only to identify suitability for flight on ESA missions but also to assist in their development by European manufacturers.

Description, Instruments & technical parameters

State-of-the-art Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEMs), Plasma Focused Ion Beam (PFIB) & DualBeam FIB/SEM systems are employed to examine the finer details of these novel technologies with sub-nanometer imaging resolution (depending on SEM detectors, sample preparation, and mode of operation). The instruments are equipped with an additional micromanipulator for sample lift-out, and with Pt and carbon GISs for deposition, and XeF2, iodine & Delineation Etch GISs for etching, providing a complete range of options for sample preparation.

Additionally, several in-situ SEMs characterization techniques are available, including scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX), wavelength-dispersive spectroscopy (WDX), and electron beam induced current (EBIC).

3.2 X-RAY Tomography and Optical Microscopy Facility: X-Ray Tomography is a crucial element of failure analysis tasks, to non-destructively identify failure sites.

The Optical Microscopy Facility boasts a variety of optical microscopes, covering a wide range of magnifications and illumination techniques. A core equipment for EEE component failure analysis, the X-ray tomography machines are high performance equipment capable of uncovering fine details of internal EEE component structures. These instruments capture over 1000 2D X-ray images of an object, using powerful computers to reconstruct a 3D model. This model can then be virtually micro sectioned and inspected.


Low magnification stereomicroscopes and high magnification microscopes up to nominal 2500x magnification power. 

Two X-Ray inspection instruments: 

  • The largest instrument equipped with two x-ray sources: a 180kV x-ray tube for high resolution inspection of small low density samples, and a 300kV x-ray tube for inspecting larger, higher density samples. 
  • The second instrument, equipped with a 140 KV x-ray tube, is configured to also be used for high quality 2D X-ray sample investigation.

3.3 Environmental Test Facility

To simulate the demanding storage, launch and operational environments experienced by EEE components flown on ESA missions, a combination of highly specialized equipment is available to assess EEE component tolerance to mechanical and climatic stresses under tightly controlled conditions.

Description, Instruments & technical parameters

Available Equipment Includes:

  • Climatic Chambers (-70°C to +180°C, 15°C/min, 10% to 95% R.H.)
  • Shock Test Tower (500g@1ms, 1500g@0.5ms, and 3000g@0.3ms)
  • Shaker (2700N sine, 2000N rms)



The laboratory has a unique collection of state-of-the-art analytical measurement equipment to evaluate the physical, chemical and surface properties of test items: From thermo-optical characterization (emittance, reflectance, absorptance), to determination of molecular and lattice structure, passing through an exhaustive study of surfaces and topologies, and other material properties.

Measurement equipment:

4.1 Thermo-Optical properties Characterization techniques:


Portable Thermo-Optical Device – Optical investigation of materials at ambient temperatures across UV-VIS-NIR-IR wavelengths.  

Main Parameters

  • Thermo-Optical Measurements according to ECSS, allowing the characterization of thermal emittance and solar absorptance. Several instrumentation available: Portable devices (allowing external measurements at customer's premises) as well as benchtop UV/Vis/NIR spectrometers and IR vacuum spectrometers.
  • Optical characterizations of samples in the UV-Vis-NIR-IR bands in several configurations (total transmittance/reflectance, scatter measurements, angular dependent response, specular measurements, ...)
  • Capabilities to cool-down or warm-up samples available.
  • Optical characterizations of thin films and coatings using imaging ellipsometry at microscopic level (characterization of optical properties and thickness of anomalous layers).
  • Raman spectroscopy: Fast and localised analysis of chemical structure, phase and polymorphy, crystallinity and molecular interactions. Sensitivity of less than one monolayer, can identify substances and/or defect regions.
  • Optical and Laser microscopy.

4.2 Thermo-Optical properties Characterization techniques:


Main Parameters

  • Confocal microscopy: 3D measurement that allows a much more efficient (when compared to traditional 2D microscopy) and precise way to characterize a surface (e.g. surface topography)
  • X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy: chemical information about the top 5nm, identifying substances and characterizing materials and affected regions.
  • Atomic Force Microscopy, Surface profiling, allowing atomic scale 3D image of surfaces down to 0.1nm
  • Contact Angle System: Measurement of surface free energy of the interface between solid/liquid
  • Scanning Electron Microscopy: Revealing fine surface detail and coupled with Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy of X-rays (EDX) and Wavelength Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (WDX) to map and quantify elemental distribution
  • Other equipment employed in electrical component reliability analysis: Bond pull tester, die shear, Particle Impact Noise Detection (PIND), shock, vibration, constant acceleration, gross and fine leak tester, test chambers for temperature cycling, humidity, endurance testing.

4.3 Optical & laser microscopy

The Optical Microscopy Facility boasts a variety of optical microscopes: low magnification, high magnification, digital, confocal microscope. Several microscopes are available with resolution as low as 2 nm.

Instruments & technical parameters

Important features:

  • Low magnification stereomicroscope up to nominal 150x magnification power
  • High magnification microscope up to nominal 1500x magnification power
  • Z-Stack and Mosaic reconstruction
  • Brightfield, Darkfield, Polarized or Differential Interference contrast Illumination
  • Digital microscope for image documentation or uneven surface investigations
  • Confocal Microscopy
  • The 3D Confocal Microscope (compared to the traditionally used 2D equipment) allows the instrument to be used in a much more efficient and precise way for performing surface coating analysis and surface topography. 3D optical surface metrology system combines confocal and interferometry for high speed and high resolution measurements down to 0.1 nm.
  • Optical Microscope Cooling and heating stage (-100 to +600C)
  • Light/ Illumination Control



The thermal analysis laboratory in ESTEC has an exhaustive collection of instruments suited to characterize physical and chemical properties of samples at material level in a wide range of temperatures. From the well-known TGA and DSC techniques, commonly used to determine degradation and transition temperatures, curing levels or other possible chemical effects, to more dedicated techniques such as the rheometer which we use, amongst others, to characterize dynamic moduli under different temperature and humidity levels of viscous and solid samples. Furthermore, physical properties such as coefficient of thermal expansion, thermal conductivity and diffusivity, or electrical conductivity can be measured at sample level, providing useful values to modelling suites. 

Measurements and analysis

5.1 CTE measurements of samples

The coefficient of thermal expansion can be measured on temperatures between -170°C up to 1500°C with several mechanical or laser techniques, under vacuum or inert atmosphere. 

TMA – Thermo Mechanical Analysis:

Temperature range:

[-170,+1000] °C and [RT,+1500 C] °C under N2 atmosphere, air or vacuum 

Sample dimensions:

Samples must have two parallel flat surfaces in the measurement direction. For TMA, samples should have dimensions up to 8 x 8 x 8 mm3. For vertical Laser Dilatometery, it should be a cylinder or parallelepiped with 20 mm height and around 6 - 8 mm diameter. For horizontal Mechanical Dilatometer, samples can have length of 25 mm or 50 mm, with diameter of around 8 mm. 


0.01 to 1 N

5.2 Thermo Gravimetric analysis

The evolution of sample mass as a function of time and temperature is measured under air or inert atmosphere. Advanced Model Free Kinetics can be used to predict the degradation of materials in long timescales.

Temperature range:

[25, 1600] C

Heating rate range:

0.1 K/min up to 3000 K/min (ballistic)

Sample dimensions:

Typically in the order of few tens of mg. Other dimensions possible.


Air, N2, Ar, vacuum

Additional options:

TGA/DSC measurements possible

5.3 Differential Scanning Calorimetry

DSC instruments are used to measure (glass) transition temperatures, melting points, and to determine the cure degree of adhesives when following/simulating a specific curing profile. Together with TGA, it is one of the most commonly used thermal analysis techniques due to the quick and accurate results.

Temperature range:

[-150, 500] °C

Sample dimensions:

typically in the order of few tens of mg. Other dimensions possible. Multiple crucible materials available


Air, N2, Ar

Additional options:

Temperature modulated DSC


The Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory has the capabilities to construct prototype facilities in short timeframes, in response to project needs for rapid failure analysis and urgent investigations 

We have experts in a wide range of disciplines, including : 

  • Vacuum engineering
  • Facility design and manufacture 
  • Measurement and test techniques
  • In-situ monitoring (optical, contamination, spectroscopy)
  • Optical detection and measurement (UV, VIS, IR)
  • UV light sources and intensity measurement 
  • High temperature test facilities 
  • Thermal control 
  • Contamination monitoring 

We work closely with ESTEC infrastructure and the internal workshops, together with local suppliers. Facilities can be constructed on a modular basis, with a wide range of auxiliary hardware available, including : 

  • Vacuum equipment
  • Thermal baths
  • IR and optical cameras
  • Quartz microbalances
  • Temperature control equipment 
  • Sample plates 
  • Optical windows
  • Electrical measurement

7. Materials and Processes

The laboratory has a wide variety of materials characterisation equipment, connecting in many cases microscopic characteristics to macroscopic properties.


7.1 X-ray Inspection

X-ray Diffraction can be used for a variety of non-destructive analyses including phase analysis, degree of crystallinity, residual stress measurement and texture measurements. 

These measurements can be performed at ambient and non-ambient conditions (-150 to +450°C or vacuum 0.9-1.3 mbar).

X-ray Fluorescence can be used for compositional analysis both in-situ with a handheld instrument or using spot sizes down to 25 µm. Large area mosaic scans and coating thickness measurements can also be performed.

X-ray Diffraction (XRD)

Gives insight not only into the structure of solid- state samples, but also into other properties such as residual stresses and structural changes due to phase transitions.

Main Features:

  • Completely non-destructive
  • Cu/Cr X-ray sources
  • 1D/2D detectors
  • Temperature chamber (-150 to +450°C, vacuum 0.9-1.3 mbar)
  • Accommodates wide range of sample types and geometries, from powders to propulsion tanks

7.1 X-ray Inspection

Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis:

  • Material identification/confirmation
  • Phase analysis, lattice parameters 
  • Structural phase transitions
  • Degree of crystallinity
  • Mean crystallite size, texture effects 
  • Detection of lattice strain differences 
  • Residual stress measurements
  • Characterization of coatings

7.1 X-ray Inspection

X-ray Fluorescence (XRF)

Provides compositional information about a sample in a non-destructive manner without the need for sample preparation.


  • Completely non-destructive
  • Minimal or no sample preparation required
  • Diverse sample types (inhomogeneous and irregular shapes) can be inspected
  • Coating thickness measurement
  • Portable equipment allows in-situ inspection

Important Features:

  • W (Tungsten) and Rh (Rhodium) targets
  • Point analysis as small as 25 μm
  • Large area mosaic scan ability
  • Can be performed in vacuum, allowing improved identification of light element composition

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