Inside the Incredible, Complex Factories Where Satellites Are Born

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Greg White has shot some of the most remote and unusual places in the world. The UK photographer has published photo essays on Chernobyl, Svalbard, and even CERN. But for his latest project, he discovered an alien world within the ordinary confines of his home country: The labs where satellites are built.

Working under commission by Audi Magazine, White traveled to two of the UK's major satellite "factories," the workshops and labs where engineers build and prepare orbiting spacecraft. One facility, Astrium, is a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company. The second, SSTL in Surrey, is also partially owned by EADS. Astrium is a major player in the space industry—they have almost 20,000 employees on their European roster, and are working on everything from manned commercial spacecraft to satellites that can fix defective orbiting craft.


Getting a glimpse inside their facilities is, unsurprisingly, pretty fascinating. These spaces look almost extraterrestrial themselves, with workers in white kit and hair nets assembling unthinkably complex machines:

Meanwhile, sensors are calibrated in anechoic chambers, covered in the telltale spiky acoustic foam:


These spaces are also utterly sterile—since even microscopic bits of dust could mess with calibration of the sensitive working parts of these craft, or cause catastrophic damage upon liftoff. But even the most extreme cleaning techniques used inside these labs can't kill everything: The European Space Agency recently revealed that it keeps its own collection of super-bacteria that has survived inside spacecraft-building labs.


While many of White's projects focus on formidable climates that are thousands of miles away from civilization, it's fascinating to realize that equally extreme environments exist right here in our cities and suburbs, tucked away inside warehouses and labs like these. [Greg White; Collate]