Tag Archives: Surrey Satellite

A cubesat communications satellite for the Moon

Capitalism in space: The smallsat company Surrey Satellite Technology is designing a cubesat communications satellite set for launch in 2021 designed to test technology for providing communications in lunar space.

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has today announced that it is designing a low cost 35kg lunar communications satellite mission called DoT-4, targeted for a 2021 launch. DoT-4 will provide the communications relay back to Earth using the Goonhilly Deep Space Network, and will link up with a rover on the surface of the Moon. SSTL is currently in discussions with a number of parties for the lunar mission, and expects to disclose further information on mission partners and funding early in 2019.

Sarah Parker, Managing Director of SSTL, said “SSTL has led the way in pioneering the use of small satellites for over 30 years and we are now raising our sights to change the economics of space around the Moon, and beyond.”

DoT-4 will be the pre-cursor mission for a larger lunar communications satellite to follow in the 2023 timeframe which will carry a more robust payload and which will also have the potential for navigation services. SSTL’s ultimate aim is to launch a full constellation of lunar communications satellites offering full service capability to enable new and regular opportunities for science and exploration and economic development of the space environment beyond Earth’s orbit.

It appears that Surrey is trying to grab the market for providing communications services for both NASA’s Gateway project as well as the number of private small lunar rovers that are expected to launch in the coming years.

I should add that this project probably only exists because Surrey and its investors know that it will have affordable access to space, using the new smallsat rockets coming from Rocket Lab, Vector, and Virgin Orbital.

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Surrey Satellite closing U.S. factory

Capitalism in space: Surrey Satellite Technology, one of the first companies to build smallsats and cubesats, is closing its U.S. factory in Colorado and concentrating its satellite work once again in the UK.

It appears the company might have gotten a little fat and lazy, and has allowed the competition to begin passing it by:

Parker said the exact number of people SST-US will let go has not been determined. SSTL’s decision to layoff workers in the U.S. is not related to the decline in geostationary telecommunications satellite orders that triggered a reduction in workers at Space Systems Loral, Parker said. The majority of SSTL’s business is in remote sensing, navigation and science — spacecraft typically found in non-geosynchronous orbits.

Instead, Parker said it was more out of concern that the smallsat movement the company had championed for years had picked up steam and was moving without SSTL. “We had grown slightly fatter, slightly more complacent, so we are doing a lot of work on our organization. We started last year and changed our organizational structure internally. We changed the way our teams are organized so we now have a much flatter structure with more autonomy,” she said.

SSTL is not reducing its headcount in the U.K., Parker said.

This kind of reminds me of ULA’s recent effort to streamline its operations, faced with competition from SpaceX. Here, Surrey is finding itself getting beat by a lot of new players, and had found it needs to reshape itself to survive.

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Privately built smallsat designed deep space communications

The competition heats up: A partnership between two British space companies, a smallsat manufacturer and a space antenna operator, will team up to build and test a new smallsat communications satellite in lunar orbit.

The SSTL-GES Lunar Pathfinder team are already working on the initial baseline design, with technical assistance from the European Space Agency (ESA). SSTL are designing a series of lunar communication satellites and will be building on their heritage of small satellite platforms in Low Earth orbit and Medium Earth orbit to go beyond Earth’s orbit for the first time. GES are upgrading one of the famous antennas at their Goonhilly site in Cornwall, UK, into a deep space ground asset, which will be the first element in a commercial deep space network. In addition, GES will provide a dedicated mission operations centre situated in Cornwall.

What is interesting about this is that this is a private effort to develop a modern commercial deep space communications network for future planetary missions. It would be competitive with NASA’s Deep Space Network, which presently is the only game in town and is generally made up of upgraded 1960s based technology. This new network would also eventually include a dedicated network of smallsats scattered through the solar system to act as communications relays. This is something that NASA does not provide, depending instead on the communications instruments of the planetary missions themselves.

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Using video game software, Surrey Satellite has devised a way for nanosatellites to seek each other out and then dock to form a larger satellite.

The competition heats up: Using video game software, Surrey Satellite has devised a way for nanosatellites to seek each other out and then dock to form a larger satellite.

If the STRaND-2 satellites are able to dock with one another, it opens up a whole new world of space engineering. Instead of building one large spacecraft, as in conventional satellite manufacturing, or using microsatellites flying in formation as is being developed currently, dockable satellites would be modular “space building blocks” according to [Surrey]. Satellites could be made as plug-and-play components that could be sent up in segments using smaller, cheaper rockets or piggybacked with other payloads and then linked together. This would not only be a cost savings, but would allow for much greater design flexibility. It would also make it much easier to repair, maintain, refuel or upgrade satellites. Today, a satellite with a failing power system is an expensive write off. Tomorrow, it would simply a matter of sending up a new power module.

Even the fight against space junk would benefit, since a dockable micro-satellite with a booster pack could easily dock with a dead satellite and either return it to the Earth’s atmosphere or out to a space disposal area.

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