The instrument maker and the quality controller

“If it flies, it has to be 100% good”, says research instrument maker and assembler of flight hardware Sander van Loon. He has been making hardware for use in space at SRON since 2011. “That’s unique, that’s how I live my instrument maker’s dream. But once it’s launched, we can’t reach it anymore”.

That’s why the quality controller since December 2018, Nathalie Gorter, has been examining Sander’s work. “I want to understand why things break down, and when, under what circumstances. I like to look for the anomaly,” she says.

“We guarantee that hardware does what it is supposed to do during its lifetime,” she says. This requires special and often intensive cooperation, sometimes for days at a time in the clean room. For example, for the X-ray spectrometer camera X-IFU demonstration model for the Athena space telescope.”


“In the cleanroom, the world is different. Everything has to be done exactly in a certain way and that requires enormous focus and discipline. Just entering the room follows a protocol,” Nathalie and Sander explain.

The birth of a space camera

Sander builds the hardware according to the design of designers. Nathalie monitors the quality of ordered and made parts and checks, photographs and documents every step of the construction. In this way they also record the assembly method for the later flight model.

The manufacturing process is not without discussion, the colleagues tell us. “There are few professions in which you have to keep each other on their toes. Nathalie: “Because we make unique hardware for science, and not, for example, series products for the market, I don’t have to weigh the chances of failure commercially. Quality is always paramount.

Sander wouldn’t want anything else. “Every instrument is unique. The birth of something new, from scratch to flight model. This is where I can work in an advisory as well as an executive capacity. I give my practical feedback to the designer, and give the practical input to the creators of the building procedures. That process is fun to get involved in”.

Us for science

Sander: “We all want SRON to be the best in class to serve science. That creates a strong sense of ‘us’. How different we all are is completely unimportant. That gives a great collegial atmosphere. I like to come to work.

Nathalie: “SRON feels very familiar. I feel comfortable and at ease there”.


Sander van Loon, research instrument maker, assembler flighthardware
Nathalie Gorter, quality controller instruments
Photos / Video: SRON, Mark Leeman, Athena Consortium, X-IFU Consortium