UKube-1: 4 payloads

Rt Hon David Willetts MP learns about UKube-1 visiting Clyde space, seeing the clean rooms and talking to Craig Clark about CubeSat components. Courtesy


The UK Space Agency’s pilot programme has narrowed down from a total of 20 proposals to four payloads to fly on Ukube-1 from UK industry and academia.

Payloads chosen include a CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) Imager Demonstrator, a specialist imaging device to measure radiation damage in space developed by the Open University and Essex-based e2v technologies.

Another, the United Kingdom Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS) payload, myPocketQub442, is an open source system comprising five experiments, one of which will allow school pupils, university students and hobbyists to run their own experiments in space for a day.

The other two payloads are the EADS Astrium , which will test random number generation crucial to secure communications systems in the radiation environment, and TOPCAT, a system designed by the University of Bath to measure space weather conditions which can adversely affect global positioning systems (GPS).

UKube-1 will also take an educational subsystem called FUNcube, developed by the voluntary organisation AMSAT-UK, to encourage young people to learn about radio, space, physics and electronics.

The spacecraft is being developed through a knowledge transfer project with Scottish spacecraft system developer Glasgow based Clyde Space and the University of Strathclyde, which Clyde Space is also funding.

One of the world’s leading firms in the micro spacecraft sector, dubbed CubeSat , Clyde Space has made components for about 40% of the 600 CubeSats launched globally so far. It also makes components for larger satellites.

Ukube-1 is also being funded by the UK Space Agency, the Technology Strategy Board and The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The agency is currently in negotiations to find a launch vehicle to take the Ukube-1 satellite into space.

UKSEDS – Students for the Exploration and Development of Space

Bath TOPCAT Project

UK Space Agency boost for tomorrow’s tiny space tech.

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. Credit: AMSAT-UK.

Artist’s impression of a CubeSat.
Credit: AMSAT-UK.

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.

UK Space Agency logo

Open Mission Control Software for Satellite & Balloon Projects

Open Mission Control

Open Mission Control

Open Mission Control is open source, open access software for monitoring and controlling small spacecraft or balloon projects.

The software is designed to provide an application and framework that can be adapted quickly and easily to support a variety of spacecraft including CubeSats, myPocketQubs and NanoLab experiments, and sounding rocket and high altitude balloon experiments.

The team include students, space professionals, educators and enthusiasts from around the world, all working together to build a great mission control application for small spacecraft projects.

The Open Mission Control framework consists of the application and graphical user interface which contain the basic structure of the program, and the Open Mission Control toolbox, which provides a number of ready to use functions typically required for mission control applications.

The Open Mission Control application and graphical user interface can be adapted to a project quickly and easily, by populating them with elements from the Open Mission Control toolbox and other standard library elements. This approach allows also users with limited programming experience to create sophisticated mission control software by building on a solid basic implementation.

Designed to work with any spacecraft project, the first flight mission that is expected to use Open Mission Control is myPocketQub442. Developed by UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS) myPocketQub442 was selected to fly as a pocket spacecraft attached to UKube-1, the first United Kingdom Space Agency CubeSat. It is expected to be the first mission controlled by Open Mission Control and to demonstrate and verify various use cases:

+ The first use case is for professional monitoring, command and control of a real spacecraft.

+ The second use case involves schools and universities using Open Mission Control to upload their virtual payloads for their OpenSpace365 projects, monitor their experiments as they run and download the data for analysis.

+ The third use case involves the use of Open Mission Control as monitoring software for the various scientific and engineering sub-payloads that will fly on myPocketQub442. The students conducting these experiments will use Open Mission Control to access and store the data from these payload experiments for analysis and research.

+ The fourth use case is communication with engineering models of the real spacecraft which will be made available on the Internet. These engineering models are duplicates of the flight hardware and allow Open Mission Control to command and monitor them and their sub-payloads in real time and to simulate different critical mission phases under real conditions.

Additional information and links are available on the Open Mission Control webpage at:

UK Space Agency to send up first satellite

Artist impression of UKube-1

The UK Space Agency has announced plans to launch its first satellite – if it can find the right spaceship to catch a lift from.

The tiny UKube-1 will carry a variety of scientific experiments when it eventually gets off the ground later this year.


The project will see the agency take a leap into launching cubesats – a type of relatively cheap, mini-satellite for space research which has a volume of little more than one litre, a mass of around 1.3kg.

It also marks a significant departure for UKSAformed less than a year ago from the British National Space Centre, which had focused on supplying European Space Agency with parts and expertise for a variety of missions. 

Head of communications Matt Goodman said: ‘We’re still in discussions with potential launch providers for UKube-1, and are working hard to find a launch option for the satellite.

‘Since cubesats tend to “piggy-back” on larger payloads during a launch, finding an opportunity with the right orbital configuration is not straightforward.’

Despite its relatively small budget, UKSA hopes to become a much bigger player in the industry, launching several more satellites in the years to come.

Agency head David Williams said: ‘The idea of cubesat is that we see it as a series with a launch every year or maybe two years allowing the sort of people that wouldn’t normally get access to space to run experiments in it.

‘We’d like to see this being an ongoing programme because it gives university groups, and even school groups and amateur groups, the opportunity to test fly equipment. It also gives industry the opportunity to test fly and to develop ideas on bits and pieces of electronics.’

UKSA is also involved in another ambitious project named Skylon, which is an ‘unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space’, according to the British firm Reaction Engines, which is hoping to build the new craft. 

The project got the green light from the European Space Agency in May last year. Although technologically possible, the project’s major stumbling block appears to be cost.

Mr Williams said: ‘We’re trying to work with [the team] to work out how they can raise the necessary finance and whether government should have any involvement in it in the future.

‘It’s going to be an expensive programme, several billion pounds over quite a long period, and the question is which industries wish to be involved, how UK should it be, how European should it be, should it be an international project?’ he added. ‘The idea of a true single-stage-to-orbit plane is very novel.’

Vega Satellite Launch Vehicle

The Vega (Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata) is a new-generation launch vehicle being developed jointly by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA) for Arianespace.

Vega is named after the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere.

The Vega is a small launcher which can place small to medium-sized satellites into the polar and low-earth orbits. The launch vehicle complements the heavy Ariane 5 and medium Soyuz rockets launched from French Guiana.

Vega development programme history

“The Vega is a small launcher which can place small to medium-sized satellites into the polar and low-earth orbits.”

The development of the Vega launcher commenced under the Vega programme in 1998. The programme is being funded by Italy (65%), France (12.43%), Spain (5%), Belgium (5.63%), the Netherlands (3.5%), Switzerland (1.34%) and Sweden (0.8%).

Vega’s main engine P80 rocket motor was successfully tested in December 2007. The test campaign of the Vega launch vehicle commenced in November 2010.

The test phase validated the operational readiness of the launch vehicle and ground station components. The assembly of the new Vega launcher was completed in February 2011.

The first launch is scheduled for February 2012 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. ESA plans to launch its IXV (intermediate eXperimental vehicle) aboard Vega in 2014.

The marketing activities will commence after the first launch. Arianespace plans to increase the launch frequency from two to four each year.


ASI and Avio have established a new 30-70 partnership called Elv for the programme. ESA and Elv signed the Vega development contract in February 2003.

Elv, as the prime contractor, is responsible for the management of the Vega programme. The company also coordinates the activities of the subcontractors involved. Arianespace provides support services for the qualification and combined test campaign of the rocket.

In December 2011, ESA and the Arianespace signed a contract to study the launch of Vega under the Verta (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment) programme. The programme will test and qualify new vital technologies for future re-entry vehicles.

Vega design

The Vega launch vehicle is designed to support various missions and payload configurations in order to meet different market requirements. It offers payload configurations from a single satellite to one primary satellite plus six micro-satellites.

“ASI and Avio have established a new 30-70 partnership called Elv for the programme. ESA and Elv signed the Vega development contract in February 2003.”

Vega can place multiple payloads into orbit which is uncommon with most small launchers. It can carry payloads of 300kg to 2,500kg based on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers.

The vehicle has a length of 29.9m, a diameter of 3.025m and a typical lift-off mass of 137t.

The in-orbit launch capacity of the vehicle is 1,500kg into the polar orbit at an altitude of 700km. The single body launcher is incorporated with three solid propulsion stages and an AVUM (attitude vernier upper module).

The solid propellant motors, supplied by Avio, are covered by composite casing. The motors feature carbon epoxy filament wound casing and nozzle.

The first stage is powered by the P80 solid rocket motor. The second and third stages are powered by Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9 motors respectively. The fourth stage AVUM consists of a UDMH / NTO bipropellant main engine with re-ignition capability and cold gas attitude control system.

Vega launch facilities

The Vega will be launched from ZLV launch complex at Kourou, French Guiana. Based on the ELA-1 (Ensemble de Lancement Ariane No. 1) launch complex, the site was originally used for the Ariane 1 and Ariane 3 vehicles.

The existing facilities, such as the launch pad, mobile gantry and infrastructure, were upgraded for the launch of the Vega.

The original flame ducts of the launch pad were retained. They will transfer exhaust gases during ignition and lift-off of the Vega.

The power and environmental control connections to the launcher and its payloads are provided by a new fixed umbilical mast. Four tall towers erected around the launch table will provide protection against lightning strikes.

The renovated mobile gantry provides provides ideal working conditions to the personnel during the launch vehicle assembly and payload integration.

The operational control centre for the Vega will be within the Spaceport’s Control Centre no. 3 (CDL 3) facility, which is used for Ariane 5 missions. The centre incorporates independent operational control and monitoring systems. The Vega facility will share resources with the ongoing Ariane 5 mission as it is co-located in the CDL-3 building. Continue reading

AO, Cubesat Mission Concept Studies

A CubeSat in Space

A CubeSat in Space

(Source: Technology Strategy Board)

CubeSats offer huge potential to accelerate technology development of sensors and instruments in a miniaturised package for deployment in space. New technology concepts for space missions can be demonstrated on CubeSat payloads, delivering a test bed at low cost and significantly reduced timescales.

The UK Space Agency is currently funding a pilot programme, called Ukube1, to demonstrate the capabilities of a CubeSats with a launch towards the end of 2012. If successful, this pilot project could pave the way for a national programme starting in the third quarter of 2012, offering launch opportunities every 12-18 months. The aims of a national programme will also encompass the delivery of educational opportunities and science applications as well as testing new technologies.

Proposals are invited to develop CubeSat preparatory studies for future mission concepts e.g. UKube-2. The concept can address a scientific theme or be of an in-orbit technology demonstration nature (e.g. formation flying), providing a real impact to the UK. All UK based communities (academic, industrial and other) are invited to submit proposals. Applications can be made individually or in partnership with other organisations, however industry and academia will be funded under the rules stipulated in the scope of funding presented below.

Funding is available up to £35K per proposal; the size of award will depend on the requirements of the proposed project and the applicants’ case for support. Proposals should not exceed a grant value of £35K. Funding will be awarded in 2012 and the project cannot exceed 3 months duration. Due to the short nature of these studies and the amount of funding available, we intend funding successful applicants at the onset of the project. It is anticipated the scheme will fund a minimum of 7 proposals; the facility to fund more will depend on the size of awards and will be assessed on a competitive basis as detailed below. The deadline for submission of proposals is 01 February 2012, 12pm.

See TSB website for more information