Sixteen UK space labs and companies are set to benefit from the latest round of the UK Space Agency’s National Space Technology Programme (NSTP) which will spur innovation in the fast-moving area of space technology known as ‘cubesats’.
Artist’s impression of a CubeSat.
Cubesats are tiny, low-cost spacecraft – weighing only a few kilos – which can be launched ‘piggy-back’ on larger spacecraft. Many of today’s cubesats are proving to be great educational projects helping students hone practical skills in building and operating satellites. However, with advances in technology, many experts believe they will also be used for cutting-edge science or operational uses in the future.
The UK is already the world leader in small satellites through Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL). Ten years ago, SSTL benefited from UK government investment helping it to grow into a world-class company. Today, the UK Space Agency is following the same road to space innovation by supporting cubesat technology. Already, UKube-1 – a sophisticated nanosat with an imager, scientific and educational payloads – is being built by leading cubesat company Clyde Space Ltd. in Scotland.
Now, eleven new research projects supported by £310k of grants from the National Space Technology Programme (PDF, 18 Kb) will drive the next steps in British cubesat know-how.
“It’s going to be exciting to see what emerges”
Dr Chris Castelli, programme manager at the UK Space Agency explains: “We received 30 proposals to our recent competition and have now selected the best ones to fund. We’ve got a great range of ideas – from new technology such as wireless on-board monitoring and tiny thrusters to give cubesats their own manoeuvring capability; to practical uses such as bioscience and space-weather monitoring. All these ideas will feed into our thinking for a successor to UKube-1, which we hope to select in 2013. It’s going to be exciting to see what emerges.”
Cubesats represent only one part of the Agency’s innovation agenda which also encompasses giant communications satellites such as Alphasat and the exploration of the Universe through missions such as Herschel and Planck.