When the UK's UoSAT 1 microsatellite was launched in 1984, the project was run by a small team of engineers and graduates in the University of Surrey at Guildford, in the UK. Today that team is Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), a world leader in the small-satellite market.

The company has a staff of 80, led by Professor Martin Sweeting; an orderbook worth $20 million and a turnover of $12 million (Flight International, 24-30 August, 1994).

SSTL has launched and is building 16 small 50kg-class microsatellites for the University and international customers. Spacecraft in production are the FAS at Bravo - the replacement of the Chilean air force FAS at Alpha, which failed to deploy into orbit from a Russian Tsyklon rocket upper stage; the TMSAT for Thailand; a Malaysian spacecraft called the TiungSat 1; and the Clementine, a military research craft for France.


Ariane and Zenit boosters

While the Clementine will ride piggyback on an Ariane booster, the others will fly on Ukrainian/Russian Zenit boosters. The FAS at Bravo and TMSAT were to have flown together in July from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, but the loss of a Zenit booster after a first-stage failure in May is likely to delay this launch. The Malaysian satellite was manifested for a Zenit launch in September. These Russian launches each cost about $500,000, compared with the $3 million which is charged by US small-launcher companies.

SSTL is also developing a new, larger, spacecraft bus, the minisatellite, which weighs 350kg. The first of these new models is the UoSAT 12, funded by SSTL and carrying an experimental payload for Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. It will be launched by a Russian Rokot booster in early 1998 from the new national launch base of Svobodny.

The launch of the UoSAT 12 will be a vital demonstration for potential new international business. The UoSAT 12 is an advanced generic evolution of SSTL's technology and will include new technologies such as on-board propulsion and attitude control (see box, this page). It will carry payloads for Earth observation, providing 35m, six-band multispectral and 10m panchromatic imaging; and L/S-band communications with advanced on-board processing capabilities. SSTL is investing about $8 million in this.

In May, the company won major international recognition by being awarded a $5.1 million contract from the US Air Force, to build its 17th microsatellite, to be called the PICOS at. Weighing 65kg, it will carry four military technology experiments and will be launched as a piggyback payload on a US launcher in November 1998. It is the first such contract to be awarded by the USA to a UK concern.

Customers benefit from SSTL's close association with the University of Surrey's Centre for Satellite Engineering Research (CSER), making the results of academic research available to the commercial market. SSTL is housed in the CSER, which was inaugurated by the Queen in 1992. Its satellite construction units include a Class-10,000 clean room; a Class-100,000 satellite-assembly area; and a newly commissioned, $5 million, two-story building extension, more than doubling its capacity.


Riding high

SSTL is riding high. Its next development is expected to be the signing of an agreement with Russia's Khrunichev company to offer a joint microsatellite and minisatellite production and launch-delivery service to international customers using the Rokot from Svobodny. The UoSAT 12 launch will be used as a demonstration of the Rokot venture.

The UK firm is also discussing a venture with China for a $40 million fleet of seven microsatellites to provide a world-wide natural-disaster monitoring service. China alone loses $1 billion a year from its economy because of these events. "The cost is one-twentieth of that of conventional satellite systems," says Sweeting.

This application is one of several being promoted actively internationally for the mini-satellite. These include specialised communications, Earth observation and remote sensing, small-scale space science, technology demonstration, and education and training. Several of these have already been demonstrated successfully by SSTL-built microsatellites.

Low-Earth-orbit communications applications include voice and data services. The HealthSat 2 craft, built and launched in 1993 for Satelife in the USA, was one of the first small spacecraft to demonstrate this commercial application operationally. The KITSAT 1 and 2 and PoSAT craft built for Korea and Portugal respectively and launched in 1992/3, carried science payloads for monitoring radiation and cosmic rays.

The Earth Imaging Systems on the KITSATs and the PoSAT have been used operationally for meteorology and environmental monitoring of specific areas of the Earth.

The UoSATs have been used for technology demonstration of new solar cells and other equipment, as well as applications demonstrations. The University ran the UoSAT 2-5 microsatellites, launched in 1984-91, and returns with its latest research craft, the UoSAT 12, after the intervening commercial missions.

Military applications have been demonstrated by the SSTL-built French Cerise microsatellite, which was launched in 1995 (see box above), while the new international craft built for Chile, Thailand and Malaysia are part of technology-transfer projects involving the training of national engineers and graduates at the University.

Source: Flight International