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UKSA Seeks Indian Cooperation on TechDemoSat, Launches CubeSat Payload Competition

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 17, 2010
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Following up on a visit to India by Prime Minister David Cameron, British Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts visited the ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) this week to explore deeper space collaboration between the two nations. The Deccan Herald reports:

As a first concrete example of this strengthened partnership, Willetts invited India to partner with the UK in its TechDemoSat programme.

TechDemoSat is an industry-led technology demonstration satellite which aims to provide a low-Earth-orbit test bed to help demonstrate the technical maturity and commercial viability of innovative new space technology.

Director of the ISRO Satellite Centre Dr T K Alex invited the UK to consider possibility of partnering with India to train the next generation of space scientists through academic exchange between the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific and leading UK universities.

Willetts said it was a great honour to be the first visiting UK Minister to tour ISAC.
He said he was impressed by the facilities and potential of real-world impact of satellites like Resourcesat-2 on areas such as agricultural production and water resource management.

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. is overseeing the development of TechDemoSat. The company was awarded a contract last month:

The UK’s Technology Strategy Board and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) have together provided a grant of £770,000 to fund the core mission design elements. SSTL, UK industry and UK academia will fund the novel payload technologies and the grant will enable the final payload selection process to be completed. Following a successful design phase, a further grant of £2,730,000 will be released and that the programme will transition into the build and test phase.

UK organizations currently experience huge cost barriers and find it very time consuming to obtain a first flight demonstration for new equipment and technologies in space. The Technology Strategy Board and SEEDA aim to address this issue by providing an ‘in orbit test bed’ for UK technology. The rapid flight qualification model characterized by the TechDemoSat-1 programme has been proven to yield excellent return on investment for “UK plc”, with previous programmes such as the UK’s MOSAIC initiative of 2001 leading to export some 20 times greater than the original investment.

TechDemoSat-1 will be the first collaborative UK satellite launched since the establishment of the UK Space Agency and will demonstrate the advanced capabilities of state-of-the-art small satellite technology for scientific and commercial applications. It will also be among the first missions to make use of the ground station facilities that are currently under construction at the UK’s new International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) at Harwell, Oxfordshire.

Dr David Parker, Director for space science & exploration of the UK Space Agency commented; “TechDemoSat-1 is part of our response to the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy. By allowing new technologies to get into space more quickly, TechDemoSat-1 will give UK space businesses a competitive edge and help the sector maintain its impressive growth which has continued unabated through the current economic downturn”.

In related news, UKSA also opened up competition last week for its CubeSat program:

The UK Space Agency has today (Wednesday 10th November) opened the payload competition for its United Kingdom Universal Bus Experiment (UKube1) – a one year pilot mission in which the UK will launch a miniature satellite that will carry up to 3 different payloads into space, testing new technologies and carrying out new space research quickly and efficiently.

UKube1 is an exciting and novel collaboration between the UK Space Agency, industry and academia, and is envisaged as the pilot for a full national CubeSat programme. The low cost, largely off-the-shelf nature and rapid turnaround of CubeSat missions means that they can be used to drive the development of innovative technologies and to promote economic growth. Only this week, The UK Space Agency announced that the UK space industry has grown by about 10% a year through the recession to reach an annual turnover of £7.5B.

Dr David Williams, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said, “UKube1 will allow us to test the suitability of a CubeSat programme for fast-tracking some of the UK’s new and cutting-edge space technology and performing unique science at a relatively low cost. We’re looking forward to receiving the innovative payload proposals that our skilled UK scientists and engineers will suggest.”

The funding partners for UKube1 are the UK Space Agency, TSB and STFC. The spacecraft is being developed through an existing Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with innovative Scottish space company Clyde Space and the University of Strathclyde. The platform development is supported through internal funding from ClydeSpace and STFC sponsorship of the KTP. The UK’s largest space company, EADS Astrium Ltd, is providing engineering and programme management support to the Agency for the programme.

Craig Clark, CEO of Clyde Space, said, “Clyde Space is delighted to be part of the UKube1 programme. UKube1 is a fantastic opportunity for innovative UK companies to get together with likeminded UK academics and be creative in space. The UK Space industry has recently set out ambitious growth plans and innovation is going to be key to achieving those ambitions. CubeSats provide an ideal platform to prove our new ideas in space, quickly and at a fraction of the cost of typical space missions. I think that UKube1 also demonstrates the willingness of the new UK Space Agency to recognise market trends and act on this knowledge to help UK companies operate at the forefront of these markets.’

Dr Ronan Wall, UKube Programme and Engineering Manager at Astrium added, “Developing new concepts for space can be both a time-consuming and costly process, but cubesats provide the space industry with a platform for rapid innovation in a low risk environment. Astrium is lending its engineering expertise to this project as we recognise the multiple benefits it will bring in terms of technological development, creating new supply chains and hands-on inspiration.”

Launch of UKube1 is planned for December 1, 2011. Up to three payloads from UK based providers will be selected for flight, with at least one back up which itself will be flown on a following UKube, on approval of the full national programme.

A number of existing CubeSat missions, operated by other countries, are targeted at science applications and especially at studies that can be carried out at low-Earth orbits such as space weather studies, atmospheric science, energetic particle studies and spacecraft damage studies. Examples include NASA’s GeneSat-1, a 5 kilogram CubeSat which is carrying bacteria inside a miniature laboratory and NASA’s Firefly mission which is studying the relationship between lightning and mysterious bright flashes of gamma radiation in the upper atmosphere of our planet.

The low-Earth orbit of CubeSats is also ideal for disaster monitoring and Earth sciences, as the lower a satellite orbits, the less time it takes to complete a revolution of the Earth. Constellations of Earth-monitoring CubeSats could be set up far more cheaply than regular satellite constellations and could be used for all kinds of applications, including bush-fire early warning, live maps and Tsunami warning. CubeSats also lend themselves well to education and offer great opportunities for hands-on training of the next generation of our space workforce.