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A chance to get your 'app' into orbit

01 August 2011

Back in January, I reported in this column that researchers at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) planned to be the first to place a smartphone into orbit around the earth. The team’s ‘STRaND-1’ (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) satellite is due for launch next year to show how a satellite with advanced capabilities can be built quickly using commercial off-the-shelf components.

Now, the group is inviting people to submit their own smartphone applications ('apps') in a competition to find the four most creative, novel and fun ’app’ ideas that will be selected to fly on the Android phone inside STRaND-1. Winners will be invited to STRaND’s mission control to observe their app on the nanosatellite as it orbits the earth.

STRaND-1 system sngineer, Shaun Kenyon says the team is looking for innovative entries that stand out from the crowd. "You don’t need to be a rocket scientist," he says, "and there’s plenty to play with on a modern Smartphone – from a digital compass to a powerful processor that lets you do things like image recognition and Artificial Intelligence (AI). It’s amazing what you can do with today’s mobile phone Apps and they only increase once the phone is flying in space – above all it’s cool!”

Lead researcher Chris Bridges says smartphones pack lots of components such as sensors, video cameras, GPS systems and Wi-Fi receivers that are technologically advanced but a fraction of the size, weight and cost of components used in existing satellite systems. And because many smartphones also run on free operating systems that lend themselves to online software developers, the creators of applications (‘apps’) for smartphones could feasibly develop apps for satellites, too.

Contestants can employ built-in features such as a high performance processor, compass, 3-axis accelerometer, not to mention a high resolution 5 megapixel camera that has a window pointing out to space. GPS position and velocity is available but not from the phone itself. USB and Wi-Fi provide interfaces with the satellite subsystems that, for example, allow it to communicate with Earth.

The Space App competition is open to any UK citizen who thinks they can write a working Android mobile phone App in a few months. The App must be not-for-profit and would preferably have an aim to get students and pupils interested in science and technology, although innovative applications that are just plain fun will also be taken into consideration.

Contestants have until 9am GMT on September 2 2011 to submit their App concepts via the Surrey Nanosatellites Facebook page and the top four entries will be selected to fly on STRaND-1 within two weeks of the competition closure and the App software must be submitted by 31 December 2011. For more information and to take part in the competition, visit www.facebook.com/nanosats  You can also follow the Surrey team on Twitter @SurreyNanosats

Industrial sector pension woes
Companies in the industrial sector are overall the worst affected by their defined benefit (DB) – or final salary - pension scheme obligations, according to research conducted by Barnett Waddingham, the UK’s largest independent firm of actuaries and consultants. The deficit contributions exceeded free cash flow for six of the 50 FTSE350 companies in the industrial sector, and were on average 18.5% of average free cashflow. Barnett Waddingham’s research highlights the impact DB pension schemes are having on UK businesses. The key findings also include:

- 15 companies (of the 44 companies with a deficit) in the Industrial sector are paying higher annual DB deficit contributions than those in respect of pension benefits being earned each year by current employees.
- For many sectors, the DB scheme deficit is a manageable distraction.  However, for the Industrial sector the deficit represented, on average, 13.2% of the market capitalisation of the company in 2010 (FTSE350 average was 7.4%) and for 11 companies it exceeded 15% of the market capitalisation.  For 12 companies it exceeded 25% of the equity value of the company (after removing the pension scheme liability).
- For a number of sectors, the DB scheme is having a material impact on the gearing ratio (a measure used to assess financial leverage or risk) which could ultimately impact on a company’s ability to raise finance.  On average the impact has been to worsen the gearing ratio of companies in the industrial sector by 5.7%. However, for nine companies in the Industrial sector, the impact was an increase the gearing ratio by more than 10%.
- 22% of companies (or 11 of the 50 Industrial companies in the FTSE350) had pension liabilities that exceed the market capitalisation of the company.
- 18% of companies in the Industrial sector had an equity holding in their scheme that was more than 50% of the market capitalisation of the Company.

The research project, carried out with input from the Centre for Global Finance at the University of the West of England, will allow businesses with a DB scheme to benchmark themselves against their peers. The research focused on the pension obligations of FTSE350 companies although separate analysis has been carried out for the FTSE250 and different industry sectors.

Head of corporate consulting at Barnett Waddingham, Nick Griggs, says the research shows the pension generational divide that exists as almost a third of the employers in the industrial sector are now paying more to plug defined benefit scheme deficits than they are to fund the benefits earned by current employees each year.

“Our research shows the widespread impact defined benefit schemes are having on the businesses of some of the UK’s largest companies,” he says. “A small number of high profile companies are often highlighted for the size of their defined benefit pension obligations but our research shows that they are not alone.

“Companies are directly exposed to significant risks through their pension scheme.  Our research highlights the strain that deficit contributions can place on companies when these risks materialise particularly in recent times when for many companies cashflow has been tight.”

Les Hunt
Editor

 


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