BBC Report on the UK Skylon Spaceplane

Skylon in Orbit 640BBC News report on Skylon, designed to be an unpiloted spaceplane by the UK company Reaction Engines Limited (REL). It uses a combined-cycle, air-breathing rocket engine to reach orbit in a single stage.

The report by BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos along with a video report by BBC science editor David Shukman on Skylon engine tests and audio interviews with both Alan Bond, REL managing director, and Dr. Mark Ford are available at

Reaction Engines Ltd (REL)

50th Anniversary of the UK in Space

The United Kingdom sent up its first satellite 50 years ago when Ariel 1 launched on April 26, 1962. To celebrate the occassion BBC News interviewed radio amateur Sir Martin Sweeting G3YJO.

The launch of the joint UK/US satellite Ariel-1, also known as UK-1, made the United Kingdom the third country to operate a satellite, after the Soviet Union and the USA.

Deployed into a 1,202 by 397 km orbit Ariel-1 carried six experiments, five of these examined the relationship between two types of solar radiation and changes in the Earth’s ionosphere.

Ariel-1 marked the first time the UK sent something into orbit, and gave a lift-off for a part of the British economy that gets little attention but makes a lot of money.

In this BBC News report Adam Fleming speaks to Doug Millard at the Science Museum, Sir Martin Sweeting G3YJO from Surrey Satellite Technology and Space Minister David Willetts on the UK’s role in space today.

Watch the UK Space Agency video – 50 Years of the UK in Space

UK Space Agency – Celebrating 50 Years of the UK in Space

Wiki – Ariel-1

UK industry to build Solar Orbiter satellite

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.
In the news
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.
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.


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

UK space environments conference


UK Space Agency logoDuring the summer a number of UK institutions currently active or interested in space biomedicine research and education formally agreed to collaborate in order to identify and pursue a national strategy for space biomedicine research and development.

“UK Research & Education for Space & Terrestrial Benefit”

The UK Space Biomedicine Association invites students, professionals and the general public to the first UK Space Environments Conference in Aberdeen, 16 – 17 June, 2012. This is the only conference where representatives from UK organisations actively engaged in fields such as Space Biomedicine, Exobiology, Astrochemistry and Microgravity-physics will collectively meet to aid the development of space environments research and education in the UK. The meeting represents a unique opportunity to:

  • Showcase current activities related to research and education in the space environment.
  • Interact and collaborate with pioneers & colleagues from numerous disciplines involved in R&D associated with aspects of the space environment.
  • Contribute to and learn about the development of a national UK space biomedicine strategy.

Keynote speakers will include Dr Jeff Davis, Director of NASA space life science and medical operations.

Venue: Satrosphere Science Centre, 179 Constitution Street, Aberdeen, AB24 5TU
Dates: 16-17th June 2012
Early Registration fee: Professionals- £81, Student tickets- £57, before 1 April 2012.

For more details visit the UK Space Biomedicine Association website.

FUNcube Dongle used in new Prospero X-3 Satellite Tests


Roger J A Duthie M0RJA and the team are carrying out further attempts to reactivate Prospero, the United Kingdom’s first satellite launched on a UK-built rocket, Black Arrow, on October 28, 1971.

The team now have an AMSAT-UK FUNcube Dongle (FCD) VHF/UHF Software Defined Radio to receive Prospero on 137.560 MHz and use an Icom IC-746 tranceiver on transmit commands to the satellite.

Because the frequency is now used by a number of Orbcomm satellites it can be difficult to identify the Prospero X-3 signal. The intention is to switch the satellite on and off by making commanding attempts and listening for a response in the RF carrier to indicate that Prospero is indeed still in some sort of working condition.

It is hoped Amateur Radio operators will be able to provide recordings of the signals on 137.560 MHz.

For further information check the Prospero X-3 blog and the AMSAT bulletin board.

Prospero 40th Anniversary has links to the real time tracking page and the history of the satellite

PE0SAT – Prospero

Join the FUNcube Yahoo Group

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