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UK Lays Out Its Space Aspirations By Julian Nettlefold







At a comprehensive Air Power Conference held in London last year in May, a number of key companies involved in space laid out their plans for a new post-Brexit dawn for the UK Space Industry.

Skyrora chooses Cornwall

Satellite launch operator Skyrora chooses Cornwall for first rocket engine test. Launch operator Skyrora has announced that it will begin its engine testing programme at Cornwall Airport Newquay’s rocket test facility in Q4 this year. The site will be an operational Spaceport by 2021.

The event is expected to be the first liquid engine test by a British small-satellite launcher to take place in the UK since Black Arrow around 50 years ago. The announcement was made at the Farnborough International Airshow. Edinburgh-based Skyrora selected Cornwall after considering alternative facilities across Europe. The company aims to capture a share of the fast-growing small satellite launch market and has already manufactured two completely different engines for testing at separate locations this year, allowing them to move at pace as they work towards their first test launch.

Skyrora will carry out a series of test firings at Newquay for their “LEO” engine, which will eventually be used to propel their satellite launch vehicle’s upper stage. They will utilise a hardened aircraft shelter which was previously used by the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car project for rocket tests in preparation for a world land speed record attempt next year. Skyrora’s deployment at Cornwall Airport Newquay is being supported by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), through its Enterprise Zone Infrastructure Fund.

Daniel Smith, Director of Business Development at Skyrora, said: “Newquay is a great fit for us because of the enthusiasm and support from the team, combined with the immediate availability of the facility, providing us with a perfect short-term solution while we work towards establishing our own strategic capability north of the border for our larger engines.”

Mark Duddridge, Chairman of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LEP, said, “Our recently published Space Action Plan outlines how we intend to build a £1bn space economy by 2030, so we are delighted to welcome Skyrora to Cornwall where we are laying the foundations for tomorrow’s global space industry.”

The Airport’s rocket test facility is seen as a critical piece of infrastructure for Spaceport Cornwall which is planning to be the UK’s first horizontal launch spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay, operational by 2021.

Al Titterington, Managing Director of Cornwall Airport Newquay, said, “It’s exciting to be involved in another project that demonstrates the capabilities of the Airport, which go far beyond air passenger services.”

BAE Systems and Goonhilly Earth Station (GES) partnership

BAE Systems and Goonhilly Earth Station (GES) have entered into a partnership to commercialise deep space communications. BAE Systems has today signed a memorandum of understanding to supply two Tracking, Telemetry and Command Processor (TTCP) systems to GES at Farnborough International Airshow.

This technology will allow GES to track and communicate with a wide range of spacecraft including future manned and robotic missions to the Moon and Mars. The partnership will involve close working on the current deep space programme with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the development of a global network in the next four years.

The TTCP provides uplink and downlink services to support the spacecraft. The uplink transmits commands that control the spacecraft and the downlink receives data including critical spacecraft health information, images, video and other scientific and engineering information.

Key features of the TTCP equipment include:

• A fully digital and flexible Software Defined Radio (SDR) able to support data rates from 1 bit per second to 300 megabits per second from multiple spacecraft simultaneously, with 50 times the processing power of current technology.

• Tracking functions able to determine the spacecraft distance to around 10cm at ranges of billions of km.

• Doppler measurement functions able to determine the spacecraft’s velocity away from or towards the ground station to an accuracy of around 0.01mm/s for speed in excess of 50m/s.

• Flexible, high bandwidth digital receiver that enables networking with other ground stations to increase the performance of signal reception. The unprocessed received data can also be sent to other stations for further complex analysis.

• Proven in service at ESA Deep Space Ground stations and currently used to support ESA missions such as Gaia, Lisa Pathfinder and Exomars, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) missions such as Dawn.

Goonhilly is set to become the world’s first privately-owned member of the Deep Space Network under a new contract recently announced by ESA and Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (CIoSLEP). Under the contract, Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd will upgrade its largest antenna to meet the exacting requirements for deep space communications, making use of the TTCP technology to achieve these challenging objectives.

Nick James, BAE Systems lead engineer for the project, said: “BAE Systems has developed a highly precise space communications and tracking system designed to support spacecraft operating both near the Earth and in deep space. The technology receives and converts faint radio signals from spacecraft into data that mission controllers use to monitor and control the spacecraft.

“The highly flexible system is able to handle differing ESA and NASA requirements and protocols, which makes it an ideal choice to support Goonhilly in future space missions.”

Ian Jones, Goonhilly CEO, said, “We have a great deal of interest in using Goonhilly’s upgraded antenna from our international customer base, including space agencies and some of the new private space exploration companies. This system will ensure that we can support missions for a number of space agencies.” 

This represents the first time TTCP has been purchased by a private company and is also now operational in the ESA Deep Space Network.

UK Space Agency selected Lockheed Martin

The UK Space Agency has selected Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) to help implement its vision for the UK Spaceflight Programme, an innovative initiative to create a world-leading commercial launch market that grows the UK economy through regular, reliable and responsible access to space.

“The countdown to the first orbital rocket launch from UK soil has officially begun,” said Patrick Wood, Lockheed Martin’s UK Country Executive for Space. “The UK Government has stated its desire to grow the UK’s space sector to ten percent of the global space economy by 2030. We are proud to be selected to help them achieve this goal. This initiative will not only spark advancements in science and innovation, it will create new opportunities for current and future UK-based suppliers to become part of the next space age.”

With a recent grant from the UK Space Agency, Lockheed Martin is leading a team to execute several strategic projects to support the UK Spaceflight Programme, with a goal of providing the first vertical space launch in the early 2020s.

• The UK’s First Space Port: The team will support the development of the nation’s first commercial spaceport at the Sutherland site in Melness, Scotland. The site aims to be the UK’s first vertical orbital rocket launch site. Overall site development is being led by Scottish government economic and community development agency Highlands & Islands Enterprise, with Lockheed Martin providing strategic support and guidance.

• Innovative CubeSat Delivery Vehicle: Once it reaches orbit, the first rocket launched will release a Small Launch Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle (SL-OMV), built specifically by Moog in the UK for the UK Spaceflight Programme. This agile platform will carry up to six 6U CubeSats, such as Lockheed Martin’s LM 50 platform, which the vehicle can deploy at the most optimal times and positions for their respective missions. The team is currently taking requests from potential customers to fill its CubeSat manifest for this first launch.

• Advanced 6U CubeSat Pathfinder: As part of the programme, Lockheed Martin teammate Orbital Micro Systems will create and fly a UK-built pathfinder test to validate the performance of the SL-OMV and ground system. The pathfinder will help lay the ground work for planned satellite constellations that are designed to deliver low latency weather observation to commercial and government customers.

“This historic ‘pathfinder’ launch for the UK will also demonstrate the tremendous potential small satellites and CubeSats have across a wide range of commercial and government data collection applications,” said Wood. “We believe, as the UK Space Agency does, that this effort will help bring the UK to the forefront of the rapidly-growing, global small satellite market and support the UK’s maturing space supply chain.”

Lockheed Martin brings significant space experience to the UK’s Spaceflight Programme, from ground systems, to launch vehicles, to on-orbit missions. The company’s LM 50 CubeSat platform is an innovative and powerful platform that can be customized to a wide array of missions and payloads. It’s one of four modernized satellite platforms Lockheed Martin offers its customers, including the LM 400 small satellite, LM 1000 remote sensing bus, and the flagship LM 2100 geostationary bus.

Lockheed Martin’s team includes: Moog, Orbital Micro Systems, the University of Leicester, Surrey Satellite Technology, Satellite Applications Catapult, SCISYS, Lena Space, Reaction Engines and Netherlands Space Office.

Orbex announces funding

Orbex has announced that it has secured £30m ($39.6m) in public and private funding for the development of orbital space launch systems.  Orbex will launch orbital vehicles from the newly-announced UK Vertical Launch spaceport in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands as part of the main consortium. Recently emerging from stealth mode, Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company, with subsidiaries and production facilities in Denmark and Germany. The company has received funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA), two of Europe’s largest venture capital funds, Sunstone Technology Ventures and the High-Tech Gründerfonds, as well as private investors, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme.

Orbex is constructing a completely re-thought and re-designed orbital launch vehicle, called Prime, to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit. The Prime launcher has a novel architecture that eliminates the fundamental mass challenge of small launchers. Prime launchers are up to 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other vehicle in the small launcher category, packing more power per cubic litre than many heavy launchers.  The Prime vehicle will launch satellites to altitudes up to 1,250km, inserting them into sun-synchronous or polar orbits.

“It is our ethos to invest in exceptional entrepreneurs with bold visions,” said Jimmy Fussing Nielsen, Managing Partner of Sunstone Technology Ventures.  “Behind the scenes, Orbex has made huge strides forward over the past three years, reaching a level of technical and commercial sophistication that is surprising for a young company.  This explains why Orbex has been able to attract such high-profile public and private backers, as well as experienced team members. Just out of stealth mode, Orbex is already well on its way to becoming the leading private space launch company in Europe.”

Minimising the environmental impact of launches was a key consideration in the rocket’s design.  Prime is a low-mass and low-carbon launcher, using a single renewable fuel, bio-propane, that cuts carbon emissions by 90% compared to old-fashioned hydrocarbon fuels.  The rocket uses a novel zero-shock staging system called Magic, which leaves zero orbital debris.  It also features a novel reusability concept, with an innovative new low mass recovery and reflight system. 

“It was clear to us from the start that Orbex had the potential to disrupt and fundamentally improve the satellite launch market in Europe and beyond,” said Yann Fiebig, Senior Investment Manager at the High-Tech Gründerfonds.  “The company has made rapid progress, taking their innovations from concept to reality in short order.  Their very strong management team deserves full credit for its ability to execute and we look forward to being part of their positive disruption over the coming months and years.”

Orbex has already secured commercial engagements with major aerospace organisations.  The European Space Agency has contracted Orbex to study the development of a European micro launcher solution. Also, an engagement with a leading European aerospace company will be announced on Tuesday 17th July.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former Director General of the European Space Agency has joined Orbex as Chairman of the Advisory Board.  He is joined by other notable figures from the space industry, including Jan Skolmli, Orbex’s recently-appointed Chief Commercial Officer, who was formerly Head of Launch at SSTL, the world’s leading small satellite manufacturer.  Orbex staff members have professional backgrounds with NASA, ESA and several other commercial spaceflight organisations. Equipment developed by Orbex team members has flown on more than 50 deep space missions, and collectively they have developed more than 50 rocket engines and a wide range of orbital and suborbital launch vehicles.

“Orbex is one of the very few private spaceflight companies whose staff have credible, practical experience in the development of micro-launch vehicles and rocket engines,” commented Chris Larmour, Orbex CEO.  “With our collective experience, we have developed a low mass, low carbon, high performance 21st century orbital launch vehicle, designed specifically to support the needs of the rapidly growing smallsat industry. There is a significant launch backlog for small satellites globally and Orbex is primed to give industry and science a cost-effective, reliable and responsive route into space, directly from Europe.”

Satellite launches set to return to British soil

Satellite launches set to return to British soil after 50 years following new partnership with Virgin Orbit in Cornwall. The first British satellite launch in 50 years could take place from Cornwall within the next three years following a new partnership with Virgin Orbit. Virgin Orbit, a satellite launch company, has selected Spaceport Cornwall as an ideal location to operate and deliver one of the first launches of its LauncherOne system outside of its US home. The last British rocket – Black Arrow – that sent a satellite into space was launched from Australia in 1971. The new partnership deal will make history by pioneering horizontal satellite launches from UK soil.

The news has been welcomed by UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah, who said:, “The announcement of a strategic partnership between Virgin Orbit and Cornwall Spaceport is great news for the region and the UK’s ambitions for regular, reliable and responsible access to space. This partnership could see Virgin Orbit’s innovative horizontal launch technology helping the UK’s small satellite industry access space from the convenience of a Spaceport in Cornwall. We will work with both partners to support their ambitions, as we take the next steps in our national spaceflight programme as part of the government’s modern Industrial strategy.”

Virgin Orbit is seeking to provide launches from a Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021, using a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft called “Cosmic Girl”. Cosmic Girl will carry a LauncherOne rocket under its wing to a launch range over the Atlantic and release the rocket at around 35,000 feet for onward flight into space, carrying a satellite into Earth orbit.

As a horizontal air-launch platform, LauncherOne enables Virgin Orbit to conduct low cost missions quickly and efficiently by bypassing heavily trafficked established launch ranges. The partnership with Virgin Orbit will help position Cornwall as having the UK’s only horizontal launch facility.  Spaceport Cornwall will provide California-based Virgin Orbit with a strategic Western European location and make a major contribution to the Cornwall’s ambition to create a £1bn space economy as part of its response the UK Industrial Strategy.

Britain is a world-leader in the production of small satellites, supporting more than £250bn of GDP in the wider economy, but lacks any means to get them into space. The fast-growing global satellite launch market is predicted to be worth around £10bn over the next decade. It is estimated that up to 2,600 microsatellites (under 50kg) will require launch over the next five years alone.

Virgin Orbit signed the partnering agreement with Cornwall Council at Farnborough International Airshow on July 16th.  Work will now commence to develop a detailed plan for launch by 2021 as well as a Spaceport and Operator Licence application.

The signing of this agreement is the culmination of over a year’s work by a team led and funded by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), in partnership with Cornwall Council.

Following Virgin Orbit’s commitment, Cornwall Council will consider resources to progress the project at a meeting of its Cabinet on a date to be confirmed.

Spaceport Cornwall could eventually create 480 jobs and contribute £25m a year to the local economy. The LEP’s Space Action Plan predicts that the wider space sector could create thousands more jobs in Cornwall and by 2030 be worth £1bn a year.

Patrick McCall, Managing Director Virgin Group and Chairman of Virgin Orbit’s Board of Directors, said, “Cornwall can deliver new launch capabilities for the UK quickly and efficiently by upgrading Cornwall Airport Newquay to support our horizontal air-launch platform. The Cornwall partnership allows us to grasp important market share, gain instant global launch market credibility and, with the technology already being tested in the US, further lower our risk.”

Cornwall Council leader, Adam Paynter, said, “This is a game-changing partnership that will inspire a generation and create a new industry in Cornwall. The challenge now is to make the most of this hard-won opportunity so that it can deliver on its enormous potential not just for Cornwall but for the UK as a whole. We look forward to welcoming Virgin Orbit to Cornwall and working with HM Government to realise the potential.”

Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, said, “Cornwall can play a key role supporting the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy ambitions and we have identified space as a major opportunity for growth.  The partnership with Virgin Orbit is a clear statement that Cornwall is the best UK location for horizontal launch and opens the door to a global satellite customer base.  We will work with Government to maximise UK investment and jobs and make the most of the unique environment at Spaceport Cornwall. With our clear uncongested airspace and access to launch sites over the sea, it will be a vital part of a global UK offer and we look forward to working with other UK vertical launch locations to promote trade and investment.”

The UK Government has a target of achieving commercial spaceflight from British soil from the end of the decade, as well as increasing the UK’s share of the global space economy from 6.5% now to 10% by 2030, which would be worth an estimated £40bn per annum.

The UK’s space sector has estimated annual revenues of £13.7bn and employs 38,500 people. It has been growing at 8% a year over the last decade, four times as fast as the rest of the UK economy.   

Cornwall Airport Newquay, which is owned by Cornwall Council, was first unveiled as one of the UK’s potential Spaceport locations in July 2014 because of its long runway, uncongested airspace and direct access to the Atlantic Ocean.

Cornwall is already home to Goonhilly Earth Station, famous as the world’s largest satellite earth receiving station. Goonhilly is being upgraded through an £8.4m LEP-funded contract with the European Space Agency, announced in February, to become part of the deep space network, and recently secured a £24m investment from UK billionaire Peter Hargreaves.

Goonhilly moves forward to become key space gateway and ultra-connected communications hub

Goonhilly Earth Station is well on the way to fulfilling its ambition to be at the epicentre of the new space economy. Having secured £32 million in funding and contract wins in 2018, Goonhilly is busy expanding its technology resources and service capabilities, and adding specialist transmission capabilities required by space users, to meet industry needs both today and tomorrow. These include establishing an R&D centre at its new Farnborough site, opened in 2018, focusing on innovations in software defined radio, active phased array antennas and user terminals. These will become particularly important to support IP delivery using low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

Goonhilly is an established global communications services provider, day-to-day providing a comprehensive range of connectivity and operational solutions to the space industry, including GEO, MEO and LEO satellite fleet operators as well as enterprises seeking to grow their businesses on Earth and in near and deep space.

Ongoing projects include contracts with SES, Intelsat, Eutelsat and Inmarsat, as well as space agencies, governments, broadcasters and others.

The Goonhilly site has world-class satellite capacity spanning 75° West to 65° East. This is complemented by connections with adjacent bundles of subsea cables and fibre.

Goonhilly is preparing to open a tier 3/4 multi-million-dollar data centre in 2019, offering exceptional connectivity by linking these cables with satellite communications and fibre. A national infrastructure asset for many decades, the Goonhilly site offers customers a high level of resilience, enhanced by its remote location and a secure energy source including green power from its onsite solar farm and local wind generation.

The new high specification datacentre sits at the epicentre of internet connectivity between the US and Europe, and is expected to attract customers which seek a true global presence.

The datacentre’s use of renewables, its Enterprise Zone status and its low latency connections are designed to make it a cost-effective choice for hosting, co-location and multi-cloud services for customers in a wide range of market segments. 

Meanwhile, Goonhilly is creating the world’s first private deep space network in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA). The team is also working with researchers to create a combined radio telescope and deep space antenna. University researchers have designed a breakthrough cryogenic receiver and back-end processor that provide the ultra-low-noise performance required for this.

Goonhilly has also partnered with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and ESA on a pioneering private commercial space exploration project, Lunar Pathfinder. The aim is to take a number of small experimental CubeSats on a piggyback ride to the Moon for communications and navigation.  Goonhilly is providing the LMSS (Lunar Mission Support Services) under contract to ESA.

As part of its fully-funded business plan Goonhilly is adding ground stations in Australia and the Americas to complete its global deep space network. Using a combination of dish and phased array techniques, Goonhilly will deploy antennas with the flexibility to meet future frequency planning and mission needs.

Goonhilly’s new strategic partnership with the Australian Space Agency, struck in February 2019, even before the ASA would celebrate its first birthday, is a key milestone. They will collaborate and create new opportunities in the space economy in Australia, the UK and beyond. A core aim is to progress the Australian space sector and make the benefits of space more accessible for businesses, governments and institutions.

In the UK, Goonhilly has a long track record of forging mutually beneficial collaborations with other businesses and universities to develop next-generation space communications and the company plans to take the same proven approach in Australia, and elsewhere. The ASA agreement will provide greater opportunities for technology transfer between the UK and Australia as well as the creation of more skills and new opportunities in the Australian space sector.

A key part of this vision is Goonhilly’s role in the proposed SmartSat CRC (co-operative research centre) space research initiative. Led by the University of South Australia, Airbus Defence and Space in partnership with the South Australian Space Industry Centre, the plan for the establishment of the SmartSat CRC was developed in 2018 and was submitted to the Australian government. Other partners include BAE, Harris and Thales, among others. The consortium is now working on next steps and outlining the organisation’s parameters and funding.

The SmartSat CRC consortium aims to enhance connectivity, navigation and monitoring capability for the benefit of Australia, helping to maximise its resources by solving major satellite system and advanced communications challenges. The goal is to catapult Australia’s space industry into a leadership position in several areas including intelligent satellite systems, advanced communications, and earth observation driven data analytics.

The consortium aims to co-develop intellectual property and specialist industry expertise that will spawn new businesses, create economic value and generate new high-tech jobs. Other economic benefits include applying advanced space technologies and space related data to diverse areas of society and the economy, from agriculture and the environment to healthcare and disaster detection and management.

Additionally, Shetland Space Centre (SSC) and Goonhilly Earth Station have partnered to develop rocket launch and tracking business capabilities for the burgeoning new space launch sector. The two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding in February 2019 committing them to collaborate on a range of projects as the UK’s space sector flourishes.

Projects include working together to support both Shetland’s and Cornwall’s aspirations for both vertical and horizontal UK space launches. The firms will jointly promote and deliver launch, monitoring and tracking capabilities from their two sites at the extremities of the UK.

SSC is planning to construct a commercial rocket launch centre on the island of Unst and is developing a teleport and other space-related ground infrastructure, while Goonhilly will invest in and install a new highly capable tracking antenna on Unst. The two firms will also co-develop data centres in both Unst and Cornwall.

The burgeoning low earth orbit (LEO) sector is an area where Goonhilly expects to play a very important, enabling role. Through its expanding relationships with emerging LEO constellation operators, Goonhilly aims to help operators deliver broadband and Wi-Fi to places that are otherwise largely starved of the reliable, 24/7 year-round connectivity needed to advance economies and support communities’ needs.

Goonhilly will also provide all the reliable testing and communications tools these LEO providers need as they launch their satellites and roll out their technologies.

The company sees its capabilities helping move the space industry forward on multiple fronts. Frequency coordination between mobile 5G and satellite communications is a complex area in which Goonhilly sees itself as a facilitator. The company envisages leveraging its technical expertise and worldwide network of partners to help stakeholders across the ecosystem to navigate the inextricably interlinked labyrinth of technologies and regulations.

Goonhilly’s success so far has been built upon collaboration and cooperation with Space Agencies, industry, educational Institutions, telcos, local and central Government. The company’s mission is to adopt this same winning formula across the globe.


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