News story

UK space industry boosted: major new space facilities launched

Another boost for the UK’s £11.3 billion space industry as 2 new space facilities are opened at the UK Space Gateway in Oxfordshire.

UK from space
  • Inauguration of European Space Agency’s ECSAT facility in the UK
  • STFC’s RALSpace opens £27.7 million state of art test facility
  • UK arm of Airbus Defence and Space awarded contract for Quantum satellite with Eutelsat and European Space Agency (ESA)

The inauguration day for the multimillion pound space facilities was also the backdrop for the first contract signed from the new European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) – a €180m contract between ESA and Eutelsat for the first of an innovative class of geostationary communications satellite to be primed and manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) in the UK using flexible payload technology and a new platform from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL).

Speaking at the event, Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said:

Putting cutting-edge knowledge and innovation and world-class space testing facilities right on the doorstep, the opening of the European Space Agency and R100 facilities at Harwell today are a major boost to the UK’s space sector.

Space is a great British success story and the partnership between Airbus Defence & Space, ESA and Eutelsat to build cutting-edge telecommunications satellites here in the UK is testament to that. Our investment in collaborative space science means the UK has the know-how and technical expertise to provide exciting and innovative space solutions that will drive growth and create jobs.

ECSAT - ESA’s home in the UK

ESA’s UK facility, ECSAT, has been developing steadily since 2008, following the UK government’s decision to increase its contribution to ESA.

Named after ESA’s British first Director General, Roy Gibson, ECSAT’s new building will host 120+ jobs including teams in telecommunications and integrated applications. Special emphasis will be put on the development of new markets for satellite-based services and applications. In addition, new satellite, ground infrastructure and product developments are being initiated through original schemes of public–private partnerships with world-class operators. The building will also house the Earth Observation Climate Office, Science and Exploration teams and Technology and Quality Management teams supporting ESA research and development programmes in the UK, focusing on ‘game-changing’ technologies and capabilities.

New test facility for RAL Space

RAL Space’s R100 building is a major expansion of their test facilities; including two new 5m diameter Space Test Chambers along with a vibration facility, clean rooms and AIV (Assembly, Integration and Verification) control room. These enhanced facilities will be used for important future projects including ESA’s Sentinel 4 mission as part of Europe’s Copernicus programme and solar and heliospheric physics with the Solar Orbiter mission. Phase Two of the development is currently expected to be completed by June 2017.

Quantum satellites

Quantum is a public–private partnership between ESA and telecom satellite operator Eutelsat. The first Quantum satellite – planned for launch in 2018 - will be primed and manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space (UK) and use a new platform by Surrey Satellite Technology (UK). The partnership is supported by strategic investment from the UK Space Agency through the European Space Agency’s advanced telecommunications R&D programme.

The ‘Quantum’ programme represents a departure from the traditional, custom, one-off approach to satellite manufacturing by validating a new and generic payload design.

The satellites developed under the Quantum umbrella will be cheaper and quicker to build compared to current methods by using generic sub-systems and equipment, enabling larger-scale production and more efficient control of stock. Quantum will also be able to completely transform while in-orbit. Once in space, the chameleon-like spacecraft can adapt to new commands in coverage, frequency band, power use and even change its orbital position. This will make it the first generation of universal satellites able to serve any region of the world and adjust to new business without the user needing to procure and launch an entirely new satellite.

This ability to mirror or complement another satellite anywhere in geostationary orbit will transform fleet management, making the entire constellation more efficient.

Published 9 July 2015