Airbus Defence & Space and its design partner In-Space Missions have moved a step closer to delivering two small research satellites developed for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for launch before year-end.

Described by Airbus as being “cereal box-sized”, the Prometheus 2 cubesats are currently at an advanced stage of preparation, “with environmental testing complete and vibration testing ongoing”, the company announced on 7 September.

Prometheus 2

Source: Airbus Defence & Space

In a UK first, the cubesats will be launched via a rocket carried by Virgin Orbit’s specially-adapted Boeing 747-400 – named Cosmic Girl – from Newquay airport in Cornwall later this year.

To have an operational life of three years, the Prometheus 2 satellites will be used to “test future concepts in support of the MoD’s ISTARI programme for future space-based intelligence and surveillance”, Airbus says.

Once placed in a low Earth orbit (LEO) of about 550km, the assets will be used to trial “sophisticated imaging, and monitoring radio signals including GPS”. Airbus says they also will support “internal R&D projects targeted at future LEO operations, ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] mission concepts [and] third party customer R&D needs”.

BAE Systems subsidiary In-Space Missions has led construction activities on the cubesats, under contract to the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

“Engineering the first UK-launched small satellites, designed and built in the UK, is a great achievement… and builds on the success of the Prometheus 1 [software-defined radio] payload launched last year,” says Airbus Defence & Space UK managing director Richard Franklin.

747 Cosmic Girl

Source: Virgin Orbit

Cubesats will be launched from Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl platform

The company says the Prometheus 2 activity will also enable third-party customers “to research signal gathering, inter-satellite communication, in-orbit data processing, space domain awareness and position, navigation and timing, or geolocation capabilities”.

The UK MoD earlier this year also awarded Surrey Satellite Technology a £22 million ($25 million) contract to provide the 150kg (330lb) Carbonite+ spacecraft; the first element of its future space-based ISR constellation.