At ISQ today, it is not unusual to come across different ongoing works for the aeronautics and aerospace sector. These kinds of activities have aroused the interest of the Portuguese media in ISQ. In a book published in the current year by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation, entitled “Portugal e o Espaço” (Portugal and Space), ISQ is mentioned in some detail in this field. This is the result of a work spanning several years by a diversified and highly qualified team in areas of high technological and organisational complexity which earned ISQ a name and success in the sector, both within and outside Portugal.
The activities in the field of aeronautics and aerospace started at the beginning of the century and have grown in a sustainable manner, gaining visibility both within and outside ISQ. In the past year alone, a number of projects involving ISQ have had wide internal and external prominence, notably:
- The successful launch and recovery of the IXV space vehicle, and the completion of the first Life Cycle Assessment project, both with the European Space Agency (ESA) as the final client;
- The start of the development tests on the Embraer half-wing;
- The participation in the construction of the world’s largest optical telescope, the E-ELT (European Extremely Large
Telescope) for ESO (European Southern Observatory).
But the activity in this sector is not limited to the most talked about events. Alongside, there are many other works underway for the different segments of this sector, be they:
- Industrial aeronautical production;
- Air transportation;
- Aircraft maintenance and repair;
- Airport construction and operation;
- Space transportation;
- Technology development for nearly all these subsectors.
Virtually all departments within ISQ have developed activities for at least one of these subsectors. Many ISQ personnel have already performed work in the aeronautics and aerospace sector. As for clients, in turn, a significant part are either foreign or belong to international supply chains.
Most importantly, the whole sector is rapidly expanding. In the current global economic landscape, this is one of the
sectors whose growth prospects remain strong.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
We’ll try to tell the story of the road travelled so far. The story begins with two almost simultaneous events:
The contract secured by ISQ for the Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) and Portugal’s accession to ESA.
The former demonstrated that ISQ is capable of occupying with merit a position in international arenas of a very high technical and organisational level of demand; the latter paved the way for the space industry and from here to other sectors with obvious synergies.
Soon after, a protocol was signed for the joint development of activities in the energy and environment sectors
between NASA and the Portuguese organisation C3P, of which ISQ is the Portuguese technical partner. At the
same time, the initial R&D projects began with national and international partners in air transportation and navigation. ISQ was then already providing services in domestic airports and to aircraft maintenance and repair companies. In 2003, thanks to a partnership with the French APAVE, ISQ began to provide QA/QC services to the European Space Center (CSG) in French Guiana. Rodrigo Cunha was the first ISQ employee to travel to the CSG, where we remained for three years, paving the way for all the other jobs that followed. We witnessed the launch of Ariane 5, carrying the Rosetta mission, which became known all over the world ten years later. Many colleagues
who subsequently went to the CSG had previously passed through CERN where they grew accustomed to a working
method and environment which shared many aspects with their later experience.
Some of them, after leaving the CSG, embarked on projects with similar levels of demand, such as ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and the Petroleum Institute.
Two years later, ISQ began its work for ESA in technology development activities.
We began with a number of minor jobs providing services for technology development in the areas of materials,
inspection and testing, and metrology for ESTEC, ESA’s centre in the Netherlands where all its material development and flight systems and hardware activities are brought together. This work is based on a service provision agreement for technology development activities. It also meant a first step in learning about ESA’s technology management and
Around this time, the Portuguese government decided to extend its collaboration with ESA to the optional programme designed to develop future spacecraft, the Future Launchers Preparatory Programme. This decision opened the doors for Portuguese businesses and academia into the great European integrators who were developing the spacecraft of the future.
HOW IT ALL GAINED MOMENTUM FROM 2008
In 2008, we established the initial contacts with Thales Alenia Space (TAS). This resulted in the participation of ISQ in a development project for a metal thermal shield. An important component of our participation in this project implied high vacuum and high temperature testing, and the simultaneous use of mechanical actuators. Together with Aralab and our Aerospace and Thermodynamic Testing Laboratory (LABET), we developed a vacuum chamber capable of successfully performing this work for TAS.
Over this period, we also established the initial contacts with Snecma Propulsion Solide, meanwhile renamed Herakles (SAFRAN Group), with which we set up a partnership to develop thermal protection technologies for the IXV vehicle. Once again, this was a model of service provision for technology development, used in all instances described hereafter, except in R&D projects.
This marked the beginning of the high profile and extremely successful project which would become the longest in this sector.
It was still necessary to develop a great deal of technology and make the vehicle which would only fly much later, in 2015.
We began by focusing on the same kind of work we had undertaken a few months earlier for TAS, i.e. determining
the thermodynamic properties of materials and testing in the vacuum chamber at our LABET. However, this work had to be suspended due to a fire in 2010, which completely destroyed the ISQ Castelo Branco facilities.
This was a very difficult time, because we not only had to make up for lost time, but also to retain our clients’ trust in our ability to achieve the goals we had set out to achieve, and to keep to the deadlines and budgets.
Fortunately, we succeeded in maintaining this trust and obtain quality results. This was helped by the fact that we had, at the same time, another testing campaign underway at our Oeiras facilities, also for the IXV.
At Oeiras, we were also doing something very similar to what we had previously done for TAS: mechanical tests, some of them at high temperature, on screws and small metal parts. From here we proceeded to integrate these small parts into composite material panels, manufactured by our client, and went on to perform tests to characterise these sets dynamically, using the shakers of our Electrical Equipment Testing Laboratory (LABEL) at Oeiras.
This was work with entirely new characteristics for ISQ. There were sensor gluing tasks onto the composite material and the use of various triaxial accelerometers for data acquisition. This time we worked in partnership with IDMEC-IST. Despite the vicissitudes and all the innovations introduced, all these campaigns undertaken in Castelo Branco and Oeiras were a success.
Alongside these works, we have also been growing in Portugal and at the CSG (French Guiana). In Portugal, we undertook an initial project with Optimal Structural Solutions for the development of composite materials for aeronautics, which was followed by several joint R&D projects. We started performing acceptance dynamic tests for magnetometers manufactured by the Portuguese company Lusospace, and have also secured an ESA project, in a consortium with IPFN–IST, for building a shock tube in Portugal to simulate planetary re-entries.
As early as 2009, we had a permanent team at the European Space Centre.
At that time, we had undertaken or were undertaking various R&D projects in this sector. These included TRACE-IT, ASHLEY, FATIGUE TEST, AEROInspect, FRIENDCOPTER, AROSATEC and SIRBLADE.
Meanwhile, we were once again challenged by TAS for a rather more ambitious job. This time, the development of a new exterior panel for the upper stage of the Ariane 5 launcher was on the table. In this project, we began by validating the physical characteristics of different materials and by performing mechanical tests on small parts, then we went on to more complex parts, which included various components, and finally performed qualifying dynamic tests for a complete panel. The possibility of performing dynamic tests on a large- scale panel accelerated the decision to strengthen the capacity of ISQ to conduct dynamic tests, including the reinforcement of shakers.
NEW AREAS, NEW SERVICES SINCE 2011
During 2011, ISQ began to provide services to the Embraer factories in Évora. At that time, the factories were still under construction and we began by providing industrial security services, expanding later to various areas, from chemical, material and metrology labs to training, machine directive, hoisting equipment, industrial maintenance, etc.
In the same year, ISQ was invited by Embraer, in competition with two other Portuguese organisations, to submit a proposal for an ambitious technological development testing programme for a wing made out of composite materials. This project was awarded to ISQ, involving six in-house areas, together with an external partner, Optimal Structural Solutions, mentioned earlier. ISQ had to complement existing resources with new investment in a facility for structural tests, financed with regional support funds, which was set up at ISQ premises in Castelo Branco.
In 2012, ISQ joined the Board of the Portuguese Aerospace Industry Association – PEMAS. In the ensuing years, the Association endeavoured to meet the needs of its associates, managed to bring together the associations for Aeronautics, Aerospace and Defence, which resulted in the creation of the AED Federation, grouping the three associations in a shared physical space, and promoted joint, stimulating projects for the industry within a bottom-up logic.
In 2014, we secured a contract with ESA to conduct the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for various materials and processes for the space industry, in partnership with a Norwegian company. We worked on various surface treatments, welding, tooling, production of fuel tanks, composite materials, fibre glass, etc. This work went very smoothly, and the partnership with the Norwegians was strengthened to secure a second LCA contract for ESA, this time for propellants used in space transportation. In the same year, we started another contract, also for ESA, aiming at finding alternatives to hexavalent chromium in alloys and materials for aerospace use.
Still in 2014, the Portuguese authorities demonstrated that they valued the work of ISQ in this sector and invited us to take on two positions as representatives of the Portuguese State in the European Union: H2020 National Delegate to the Transport Programme for aeronautics and H2020 National Delegate to the Space Programme