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Inaugural Scottish satellite ready for launch

SCOTLAND'S first satellite, designed and manufactured by pioneering Glasgow company Clyde Space, will be launched from a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket in March.

MAN WITH THE POWER: Clyde Space founder and chief executive Craig Clark. Picture: Lenny Warren
MAN WITH THE POWER: Clyde Space founder and chief executive Craig Clark. Picture: Lenny Warren

UKube-1 is undergoing final testing at Clyde Space's headquarters at the West of Scotland Science Park, before making the journey to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, probably by courier, for the launch.

The Clyde Space-built satellite or "spacecraft" last week underwent thermal vacuum testing at Astrium's facility at Stevenage in Hertfordshire. This testing, in a simulated space environment, confirmed all sub-systems and payloads performed as expected in high vacuum conditions and in extreme temperatures.

Confirming agreement for the Russian rocket to carry UKube-1, Clyde Space chief executive officer and majority shareholder Craig Clark said: "It is not an easy thing to do to build your own spacecraft. It is quite an amazing feat we have achieved."

He added: "UKube-1 aims to be the first of many nanosatellites produced at Clyde Space, and is a fantastic mission for us to demonstrate our capabilities as a spacecraft mission lead."

Mr Clark said the forthcoming Clyde Space satellite mission had its origins in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Strathclyde University.

Strathclyde engineering professor Colin McInnes has worked with Clyde Space on this project.

Clyde Space's investment in designing and manufacturing the UKube-1 satellite was put by Mr Clark at about £400,000, and the overall "mission" cost at around £800,000.

Mr Clark said: "We have been working towards doing this mission, and to get the support and funding and everything, for about four years.

"It started off with a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Strathclyde."

He added: "Thermal vacuum testing is one of the most important phases in the spacecraft test programme. I'm proud of the team here at Clyde Space in achieving such a critical milestone in the mission."

Clyde Space described the nano-satellite as "one of the most advanced of its kind". Mr Clark said it was the first satellite to be designed and manufactured in Scotland.

Clyde Space said the project, which is a UK Space Agency mission, would be the pilot for a collaborative, national "CubeSat" programme bringing together UK industry and academia to "fly" educational packages, test new technologies, and carry out space research quickly and efficiently.

CubeSats are tiny, fully functional satellites with a typical mass of 4kg and dimensions of about 100mm by 100mm by 340mm. They typically piggy-back on other launches, as is the case with the forthcoming mission.

Payloads in UKube-1 include the first Global Positioning System device to measure plasmaspheric space weather, and a camera that will take images of the Earth and test the effect of radiation on space hardware using a new generation of imaging sensor. Also included will be an experiment to demonstrate the feasibility of using cosmic radiation to improve the security of communications satellites and to flight-test lower-cost electronic systems.

UKube-1 will also carry a payload comprising five experiments with which UK students and the public can interact. There is also an "outreach" payload, which will allow schoolchildren to interact with the satellite.

The UKube-1 project has been funded jointly by Clyde Space – in the role of mission "prime" or lead – along with partners including the UK Space Agency, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and the Technology Strategy Board.

Economic development agency Scottish Enterprise has provided support for development by Clyde Space of sub-systems for the satellite, thus helping the company create products for sale.

UKube-1 will be supported by three UK ground stations.

Led by the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory's "Ground Segment" in Oxfordshire, these stations will provide the link to the orbiting spacecraft, as well as full planning of the operations.

The supporting stations are being provided by Strathclyde and Dundee universities. The Strathclyde University ground station was installed by Clyde Space during an earlier phase of the satellite development.

Clyde Space, which has private equity investors Nevis Capital and Coralinn as minority shareholders, employs 20 people and was founded in 2005.

It has an annual turnover of about £1m, and sells space technology to customers including US and European space agencies Nasa and ESA, and universities. Most of its customer base is outwith the European Union, much of it in the US.

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