Nov 30, 2011

UK Government investment brings low cost radar satellites to market

Estimated Article Reading Time: 3 min.

Rt. Honourable David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, has announced an investment of 21M pounds that will enable British small satellite pioneer SSTL to launch an innovative and highly competitive new space-based radar remote sensing programme in the international market.

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is a powerful tool for monitoring the Earth from space because of its ability to see through clouds and image Earth night or day. Despite growing demand, the cost and complexity of radar satellites severely limit their use where it is urgently needed – such as maritime surveillance (anti-piracy, illegal fishing, drug trafficking, pollution), the oil and gas industry (pollution, ice hazards, arctic passages) and environmental and climate monitoring (deforestation, disaster monitoring, relief co-ordination)

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said “Satellites enable us to monitor and manage some of the most important issues affecting our planet. This exciting project will provide the UK with a world-leading constellation of its own and is a clear signal of the Government’s continued commitment to the UK space industry.

“NovaSAR will keep us at the forefront of space technology, and will drive growth and innovation as governments and businesses across the globe develop scientific and commercial uses for the data.”

Through an intensive development programme, the combined expertise of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) on advanced small satellite platforms and Astrium UK experience on radar payloads has created a new small radar satellite (NovaSAR) that offers powerful radar remote sensing capabilities for approximately 20% of the cost of conventional radar missions.

The Government will provide the necessary seed funding alongside industry to develop and build the first NovaSAR demonstration satellite, enabling the UK to showcase the highly attractive technology to the global marketplace and initiate a constellation of NovaSAR satellites similar to the highly successful Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) of optical small satellites. The first NovaSAR demonstration satellite could be launched as early as 2013.

Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman SSTL commented, “This support by the Government is absolutely critical in bringing this world-beating technology to market. Experience with the Disaster Monitoring Constellation has shown that modest Government investment can catalyse an enormous multiplier for high value manufacturers such as SSTL, Astrium and the UK space industry to grow our exports and share in an international space market worth more than 178bn pounds per year.”

Government will contribute 21 million pounds to assist in the development and launch of the first satellite, which if the project progresses as planned will leverage an additional 154 million pounds of inward investment to the UK.

Once the NovaSAR constellation is up and running, it is anticipated that this small Government investment could yield a 50:1 return of 1bn pounds over the coming decade, creating or maintaining more than 300 highly skilled jobs in the UK space industry and many hundreds more jobs to provide data analysis services downstream.

This impressive return has already been demonstrated by the earlier MOSAIC programme investments that have enabled SSTL alone to develop from 80 employees to a highly successful space company of 450 and generated more than 500M pounds in export orders.

In addition to securing export orders for satellites in the constellation, the partnership expects a significant return on investment from sales of data from the constellation by downstream applications and services anchored in the UK.

The Government would also benefit from access to NovaSAR data – significantly boosting the UK’s sovereign Earth observation capabilities for applications such as monitoring drug trafficking, piracy or identifying illegal logging and deforestation.

This represents an example of imaginative ‘smart procurement’ by government that will not only benefit HMG policy implementation but also facilitate significant export sales for the UK in the years ahead.

The Disaster Monitoring Constellation is an international constellation of optical Earth observation small satellites created and led by SSTL that provides commercial imaging and assists in monitoring natural and man-made disasters.

MOSAIC was a Government programme in 2002 that catalysed the use of microsatellites to provide high quality, rapid response optical imaging of disaster-stricken areas and commercial applications which has yielded 200M pounds of direct UK export sales of small satellites for optical Earth observation – a remarkable return on HMG investment for the UK economy.

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