Dawn Of A New Space Age For The UK Satellite Sector

NASA’s planned return to the moon has got everyone buzzing about space again. But the last decade has also seen massive growth in the space industry, with enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs in the UK satellite sector.

As satellite launch service Virgin Orbit prepares for its first space launch from the UK launch, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson highlights the importance of this growing business.

He says: “Virgin Orbit is on a mission to open space for good, for everyone, from everywhere. Small satellites have huge potential to change people’s lives for the better, from monitoring global climate change to connecting rural communities. They help us to understand the world around us and keep us safe. Virgin Orbit’s unique airborne launch system is a big step forward in making the small satellite market accessible to all.”

Manufacturing in space

Space may be more accessible than ever, but coming home is still an issue. Founded by CEO Joshua Western and CTO Andrew Bacon in 2018, Welsh company Space Forge is developing the world’s first fully returnable and relaunchable satellite platform to unlock the benefits of space for manufacturing and experimentation at scale and transform the in-space economy.

Western says: “The ForgeStar platform is a flexible modular satellite consisting of an orbital module and an interchangeable microgravity capsule that will enable a reliable, safe and predictable return to Earth and the ability to manufacture off-planet. The fundamental science behind the safe return is our proprietary re-entry shield that protects the ForgeStar from the intense heat of the atmosphere. We think of it as Mary Poppins but from space.”

The team is developing materials and products for off-planet manufacture that will reduce the environmental impact of production on earth. “Our goal for Space Forge is for every kilogram of CO2 we create, to prevent another 20,000kg from ever being made,” says Western.

The ForgeStar-0 is the first satellite designed and built in Wales and part of the forthcoming Virgin Orbit launch from Cornwall. Western: “New technologies and companies have added in the space sector at a pace not seen in British engineering since the Rolls Royce Merlin engines. We are seeing the start of a new and sustainable era for space, and the UK is right in the middle of it.”

Taking the world’s temperature

In the current climate crisis, what’s needed is better, measurable data to make more informed decisions. With current online mapping apps, the world is visible in daylight.

Satellite Vu’s satellite technology can turn night imagery into day, revealing the thermal pattern of life on planet Earth 24/7 to identify ways of making energy usage more efficient.

Founder Anthony Baker says: “Our imagery can detect the heat output from any structure on the planet at a very high resolution, essentially acting as the world’s thermometer from space. Our images will help to determine where buildings, plants, or factories are wasting energy, and we can inform businesses, governments and the public so that corrective action can be taken.”

The next 12 months will see Satellite Vu launch its first satellite, become fully commercially active, and sell its products to companies signing its Early Access program.

Delivering Data

Space data-as-a-service describes the provision of data services to companies that no longer want to design, develop and launch satellite constellations. Their focus instead is on receiving the data that will direct and influence many faces of modern life from space. AAC Clyde Spaceone of Europe’s most prominent satellite manufacturers, enables them to do just that.

Founder Luis Gomes says: “The development of powerful small satellites and sensors has greatly improved the accuracy of climate and weather monitoring. We’ve seen huge growth across these sectors over the last decade as small satellites become more affordable to develop, more capable of achieving complex tasks, and, over time, easier to launch.”

Thanks to these new specialist constellations, Governments, companies and agencies can generate more timely, regular and accurate data. It has helped warn of severe weather and forest fires, protecting the lives of many millions of people.

Gomes adds: “The information from space also helped to track and save forests around the world; as well as improve the monitoring of farmland in tough to reach places.”

Connecting satellites in space

Many thousands of satellites will be launched over the next decade, but each single satellite network is a walled garden that cannot connect to other satellite networks. ALL.SPACE is the first and currently the only platform capable of simultaneous full-performance connections to multiple satellites in different orbits.

Founder John Finney’s career has spanned many years in the space and terrestrial communications industry. Most recently was part of the team behind O3B, a pioneer of the new wave of NGSO satellite constellations at bringing global connectivity and communication. During his time as CCO, he noticed a significant gap in ground system technology.

He explains: “The ecosystem of user terminals – the antenna, modem and related networking equipment on the ground that connects to the satellites – was using decades-old technology trailing behind the rapidly advancing space technology. I set out to solve that problem with ALL.SPACE.”

The team has pioneered new areas of science to invent materials and structures to deliver exceptional performance. They have redesigned how an antenna is built and how it converges advanced communications capabilities to provide multiple links from a single aperture. The global space industry has been transformed since Finney’s first foray into this space a decade ago.

He says. “Significantly reduced launch costs have lowered the barrier to entry to space, enabling new satellite technology, new constellations, and new business cases. The space industry is exploding, but ground system technology has not kept up.”

Plans for the next 24 months include demonstrating world-first simultaneous connectivity across all orbits and a move towards commercial launch at the end of the year.

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