On September 24th twenty Members were hosted on a visit to Surrey
Satellite Technology Ltd, in the Guildford Science Park, by Kuo Wong
assisted by his colleagues Marc Casson and Phil Allen. After checking
in at Tycho House, the company HQ, we were briefed by Kuo on the
history and activities of the organisation.
SSTL was founded by University of Surrey (UoS) PhD student, Martin Sweeting (now Professor Sir Martin Sweeting OBE FRS FREng, FRAeS, FIET, Executive Chairman SSTL and director of the Surrey Space Centre). In 1979 while at the UoS, with a team of two staff and two students in one room and a simple clean room, he created UoSAT-1, the first modern 'microsatellite,'(150 lb) which he persuaded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to launch, as a secondary piggyback payload, into low Earth orbit. This satellite and its successors used amateur radio bands to communicate with a ground station on the UoS campus. During the 1980s Sweeting raised funding to develop the small-satellite concept further and created a research group that launched a number of satellites. This led to the formation of SSTL in 1985, with four employees, and a starting capital of just £100. SSTL was later spun off from the University and sold to Astrium EADS in 2009. It is now an autonomous entity in the Airbus group.
From Tycho House and its fully automated and normally unmanned satellite Operations Centre we moved across the road to the manufacturing facility, the Kepler Building, with clean rooms, test facilities and laboratories for satellite assembly and installation. Divided into three groups we toured the building, the most impressive part of which was the very large satellite assembly hall, a giant clean room. We were also shown remarkable images of the Earth’s surface captured by SSTL’s photographic and radar satellites.
SSTL, pioneers in the use of new satellite technologies, has been operating for over thirty years and is the World’s leading small satellite manufacturer with a 40% share of the global small satellite export market. Low cost and high value are achieved by utilising commercially available hardware. Currently there are fourteen satellites being operated from the Operations Centre, there are seven SSTL satellite constellations - groups of satellites working together providing, for example, Earth observation, meteorological, navigation (Galileo) and disaster monitoring services - deployed and under construction. Eighteen customer space mission training programmes have been completed, over sixty satellites have been launched with 500 satellite years in orbit. Two satellites are in manufacture together with eight payloads. Current projects include space debris removal systems.
This visit was a real eye-opener. How many people have heard of this remarkable, commercially successful, advanced technology company, designing and manufacturing World-leading space hardware and providing space services from the centre of rural Surrey? Spread the word!