50 years of the UK in space

This is a year of momentous milestones in the life of Britain, ranging from Charles Dickens’ bicentenary to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Adding further significance to 2012 is the UK space industry, which has a golden anniversary to mark: the launch of the nation’s first satellite, Ariel-1, on April 26th 1962.
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Built by NASA in collaboration with a team of British academics, Ariel-1 was the world’s first international satellite, and constituted the foundation of the UK space sector – now annually worth £7.5 billion to the UK economy, and supportive of some 70,000 jobs across a variety of the nation’s industries.
Ariel-1
To mark this special anniversary, the UK Space Agency is presenting a two-day space symposium on the 26th and 27th of April, at the home of their active co-hosts, the Science Museum. Now a year old, the UKSA has much to be enthusiastic about; and the symposium will commemorate past achievements, and explore the future direction of Britain’s thriving space industry – with contributions from some of the leading players in the sector today.

The UK Space Agency was founded to provide strategic support to the sector, while making significant investments through its 230m civil space budget. Almost 90 per cent of the agency’s budget currently goes to the European Space Agency, for collaborative pan-European space projects. This strategy is helping to secure Britain’s role as a key player in the development of Europe’s space going future.

SSTL is a case in point; with its current role in the European Commission’s European GNSS program. The company will assemble eight batches of satellite navigational payloads, on top of the 14 it is already building. In addition, the UK government recently announced that it would invest in the development of NovaSAR, SSTL’s small radar satellite. The space agency’s work signifies government recognition of the groundbreaking work in space technology by UK universities, research centres, and companies like SSTL.

Ariel-1

SSTL is itself of historical significance, as the creator of the first ‘talking satellite’, UoSAT-1 in 1981. Their current work in nanosatellite and microsatellite technology, is a far cry from the ancestral Ariel-1, which had the aesthetics of a 1950’s ‘sci-fi’ fantasy space craft: multiple, sphere-like radio antennas protruding from a cylindrical body; multiple solar arrays; inertia booms to control the craft’s spin, and a 100-minute tape to store a single orbit’s worth of data.

Perhaps the most dramatic contrast in SSTL’s current work, to the ‘little-green-man’ craft that was Ariel-1, is its Smartphone satellite STRaND-1. This unique nanosatellite is designed around a Google Nexus One, Android Smartphone. In a playful nod to classic science-fictions’ dream of a space-going future, is the inclusion of an App on the phone that tests out the film Alien’s infamous slogan: ‘In space no-one can hear you scream’.

Providing SSTL’s contribution to the UK Space Agency’s symposium, will be Shaun Kenyon, lead System Engineer on the aforementioned, nanosatellite STRaND-1. On the 26th, 
he will discuss the importance of flagship projects and small satellites to UK space technology. Shaun’s insights will help to put in context the retrospective significance of Ariel-1, as he expounds his belief in the importance of satellite technology and low cost access to space for commercial endeavours.

Robin Wolstenholme