Surrey has become such a promising commercial enterprise that it was snapped up several years ago by EADS Astrium. Taking advantage of Astrium's expertise in radar-imaging, SSTL recently started work on a lightweight, low-cost platform dubbed NovaSAR to support synthetic aperture radar-imaging instruments. The British government will spend £21 million ($33 million) as seed money to help SSTL and Astrium U.K. develop the first NovaSAR satellite, hoping to leverage another $240 million in investment and a return of more than $1.6 billion over the next 10 years.
Applying the same approach used for its optical imaging satellite platform, NovaSAR is designed to cost only 20% of today's going rate for radar imaging satellites. “The antenna is three meters by one meter [9.8 ft. X 3.3 ft.], the whole thing weighs 400 kg [880 lb.] and operates in S-band,” Davies says. “We see this as bringing a radar capability to the DMC.”
Before year-end, SSTL hopes to launch TechDemoSat-1 (TDS-1) as a testbed for new instruments and technologies. Roughly the size of a dishwasher and weighing just 150 kg, TDS-1 will carry a minimum of eight payloads and a mixture of heritage and new development systems.
SSTL also hopes to see orbited the first of two nanosatellites, STRaND-1, which will use a Google/Nexus cell phone and components from the XBOX Kinect games controller to scan the local area and provide situational awareness on three axes, eventually allowing the nanosat to dock with its twin, STRaND-2. The low-cost STRaND satellites could serve as “space building blocks” that could be stacked together and reconfigured to build larger, modular spacecraft.
A more long-term project is SSTL's small geostationary comsat platform. Weighing 2,500 kg and offering roughly 4.5 kw, the spacecraft is designed to last 15 years in orbit and to complement Astrium's larger Eurostar-3000 satellite bus. Cofinanced with €8.6 million ($10.7 million) from ESA, the platform will launch initially within 24-30 months of order, though Davies says the goal is a turnaround of about 18 months.
“We haven't been using technology to produce something more advanced, but as a way of reducing cost,” he says.