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The Italian division of Thales Alenia Space in L’Aquila has tested and introduced a successful new system during the pandemic. This allows customers to remotely inspect hardware that is under development. The semi-automatic inspection system has been named Arvin, after ‘Augmented Reality Visual Inspector.’ (Possibly named after the old Germanic word meaning ‘friend of the folk’ as well).

Entering a cleanroom virtually to ‘sit’ next to the operators.

Arvin comprises a robotic arm and a device that is capable of automatically magnifying images and putting them into focusing, comparable to stereomicroscopes. But Arvin has even more features. For example, it can scan circuit boards and also inspect individual components on both sides, regardless of their size and thickness.

As effective as in real life

Arvin enables customers to virtually enter these cleanrooms and “sit” next to the operators, without having to wear those signature “spacesuits. This kind of clothing is a requirement for anyone entering this rigorously-controlled environment to ensure that the production process is not disrupted by contamination. Cleanroom inspections have already taken place where the customer was able to sit ‘beside’ the operator at a distance of more than a thousand kilometers.

Ernesto Ippoliti from Thales Alenia Space is enthusiastic about how the system works. For example, successful tests have been carried out during several of the development phases of the Sentitel 1 satellite (which is part of ESA’s space program). “The inspection of the clean room from a distance is as effective as it is in real life. It also saves time and money,” Ippoliti says.

Europe’s largest satellite manufacturer

The (urgency behind the) development of Arvin is attributable to the pandemic, given that Arvin was the only alternative to on-site inspections. Arvin was developed in L’Aquila, one of the most advanced production facilities for electronics in Europe, according to the manufacturer.

Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between the French company Thales (67%) and the Italian company Leonardo (33%). Thales Alenia Space has been working in Italy for more than 40 years building systems and equipment, especially for space telecommunications. The company is the largest satellite manufacturer in Europe.

As a matter of fact, L’Aquila is an Italian hub for space research. Close to this city, which was severely damaged by an earthquake in 2009, is where the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso is located. This is the largest underground research center in the world and has its laboratories in the Gran Sasso, a mountain range in the Apennines.

The future also rests with, amongst others, the nanosatellites of Kinéis.