The UK Space Agency has today (Wednesday 21st July) announced a one year pilot programme to design and launch a CubeSat – a miniature, cube-shaped satellite that will allow the UK to test new space technologies and carry out new space research ‘cheaply’ and quickly.
The pilot programme, named UKube 1, will use a spacecraft platform that is currently under development by the company Clyde Space Ltd and will involve a competition amongst companies and academic groups to come up with the most innovative ideas for payloads. The winning payloads will be launched on the satellite in mid 2011. Companies and academics who are interested in designing a payload can contact the UK Space Agency for more information.
The small size, low complexity and largely off-the-shelf nature of Cubesats make them both inexpensive and allow them to be launched on a rapid timescale, enabling a high number of launches, more science and more terrestrial applications.
The Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, said, “Britain’s first CubeSat will bring major benefits to the UK space industry. Firms will now have a cheap and quick way to test their latest prototypes.
“Running a competition to see which experiments will go up with UKube1 is an inventive way to ensure it is fitted with the most creative and innovative payload ideas.”
Dr David Williams, Chief executive (Acting) of the UK Space Agency, added, “A CubeSat programme will allow us to fast-track and test some of the UK’s new and cutting-edge space technology and perform unique science at a relatively low cost. These satellites may be smaller than your home computer, but, with the payloads that our skilled scientists will add to them, they are sure to make up in innovation what they lack in size.”
Craig Clark, CEO of Clyde Space, said, “The launch of the Cubesat Challenge programme is a tremendous opportunity for Clyde Space. As with all space related business, the best way to market space products is through their successful demonstration in orbit. By providing the Cubesat platform, we will benefit immensely from the opportunity and so it is vital to the growth of Clyde Space as a leading CubeSat company. I feel also that this programme is vital for the UK’s commercial exploitation and export of CubeSat technology in this rapidly growing market.”
EADS Astrium, Europe's largest space company, is also a key supporter of the CubeSat concept. Over the past three years Astrium has led the definition of a national CubeSat programme with numerous partners from academia and industry.
"CubeSats provide a 'playground for innovation' by enabling us to test new technology that simply could not be tried on major risk-adverse missions. The concept also ensures that we can develop the next generation of space professionals, both in engineering and science, by giving them the ideal skill set to succeed in the industry", stated Dr Ronan Wall, Space Systems Engineer, Astrium.
A number of current CubeSat missions, operated by other countries, are targeted at science applications and especially at studies that can be carried out at low-Earth orbits such as space weather studies, atmospheric science, energetic particle studies and spacecraft damage studies. Examples include NASA’s GeneSat-1, a 5 kilogram CubeSat which is carrying bacteria inside a miniature laboratory and NASA’s Firefly mission which is studying the relationship between lightning and mysterious bright flashes of gamma radiation in the upper atmosphere of our planet.
The low-Earth orbit of CubeSats is also ideal for disaster monitoring and Earth sciences, as the lower a satellite orbits, the less time it takes to complete a revolution of the Earth. Constellations of Earth-monitoring CubeSats could be set up far more cheaply than regular satellite constellations and could be used for all kinds of applications, including bush-fire early warning, live maps and Tsunami warning.
Cubesats also lend themselves well to education and make an excellent tool for training the next generation of space engineers.
Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education for the UK Space Agency, said, “Due to their small size, rapid turnaround and low cost, CubeSats are excellent for education and outreach. They can easily be taken to schools and students can be engaged before and after launch, including anything from mission ideas, hands on development, operations and data analysis. They are a great way to attract and train a future generation of engineers.”
Julia ShortUK Space Agency
Tel: 01793 41 8069
Clair PasselleUK Space Agency
Mob: +44 (0)7500 918 995
Tel: 01793 41 8072
Notes for editors
Images of CubeSats are available from the UK Space Agency press office
UKube 1 is being developed through an existing Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Clyde Space and the University of Strathclyde. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) are supporting the programme through the KTP process and encourage industry /academia to apply for KTP’s to support payload development projects. In addition, STFC and TSB are also supporting the programme through a series of workshops and promotional activities for the UKube1 pilot.
For more information about the programme and how to enter the payload competition, please contact Caroline Harper – firstname.lastname@example.org
The UKube programme will be run out of the Harwell Campus as part of the activities of the International Space Innovation Centre
CubeSats are tiny fully functional satellites with typical mass of 4kg and dimensions of around 100mm x 100mm x 340mm.
CubeSats typically piggy-back on other launches and can be flown within a year of inception
The rapidly increasing capabilities of CubeSat related technologies, commercial availability of these and the low relative costs opens up a large number of possibilities for carrying out detailed space science studies.