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UK innovation satellite TechDemoSat-1 passes design review

18 April 2011

A technology demonstration satellite project part-funded by the UK’s national innovation agency is ready to start construction having passed its Preliminary Design Review (PDR). TechDemoSat-1 will function as a combined orbital testbed and showcase for some of UK industry’s most promising space technology, aimed at winning substantial international business in the future. It will give participating companies early flight heritage – lack of which is a traditional barrier to market acceptance.

Payloads include instruments for global ship tracking and sea state monitoring – to potentially include freak wave detection – plus a radiation detector, atmospheric sounding system and a ‘self destruct sail’ to be deployed at the end of TechDemoSat’s mission. In addition to commercial technologies the satellite will carry a high-energy particle tracker as part of a sixth form college ‘CERN@School’ project.

The project, which kicked off last October (see DPA's report), is led by small satellite specialist Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and funded by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board and South East England Development Board (SEEDA).  An ambitious schedule following the successful PDR means that the satellite should be ready for launch by this time next year.

TechDemoSat-1 is officially classed as a mini-satellite, but at around one cubic metre in volume – roughly the size of a dishwasher – it will nevertheless carry a total of eight payloads plus a number of innovative subsystem designs. Its design is based on the SSTL-150 platform developed for the successful SSTL-built RapidEye remote sensing satellite constellation but with various modifications and upgrades to accommodate the new payloads crammed onboard.

An enhanced on-board computer will give greater ability to conduct software experiments remotely while TechDemoSat-1’s solar panels will incorporate two freshly qualified solar cell designs for greater power efficiency. A new battery charge regulator will help store the energy they generate. The propulsion tank system will combine a smaller tank size with a new high performance ‘resistojet’ thruster to squeeze greater efficiency out of its fuel. A novel star tracker will increase the accuracy of the Attitude and Orbit Control System (AOCS) used to control the satellite’s position in space.

The total amount of technology onboard has led to the use of an upgraded control network typically found in modern automobiles, serving to connect all modules on the spacecraft, and ensuring immunity from signal noise and minimal contention between nodes.

TechDemoSat-1’s eight payloads are divided into four separate suites based on function: a maritime suite, space environment suite, air and land monitoring suite and a platform technology suite. These innovative payloads have been developed together with ComDev Europe, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Oxford University, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Langton Star Centre, Surrey Space Centre and Aero Sekur.

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