IOD-3 Amber – The Best of the UK Space Industry

Share this page

Last week, the first satellite in Horizon Technologies’ new Amber constellation left AAC Clyde Space in Glasgow to travel to Spaceport Cornwall. Shortly it will be launched into orbit on Virgin Orbit’s Inaugural Spaceflight from the UK.

As the name suggests, AAC Clyde Space is on the banks of the river Clyde, famous for over 300 years as the hub of UK shipbuilding. But times have changed, and the Clyde now also harbours a cluster of advanced space businesses and is a major hub for the manufacture of small satellites for a global market.

The Clyde is just one of the regions in the UK enjoying the benefits of the small satellite revolution and the huge advances the UK space industry has made over the last 10 years. Today, from Glasgow to Newquay, the UK space industry touches the length and breadth of the country, with innovative companies in every region. It’s growing fast, and with the development of a UK launch capability in Cornwall, (and soon a vertical one in Scotland), that growth is set to become meteoric.

Amber is a story of collaboration and expertise from companies around the UK – a tangible product of an industry with world-class skills and aspirations:

The satellite has been built for the Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies by AAC Clyde Space which specialises in small satellite solutions and missions that provide high-quality, timely data from space. AAC Clyde Space in Uppsala acquired the Glasgow company Clyde Space Ltd. in 2019 in a deal worth $35.3 million; Glasgow is their main centre for satellite manufacture.

The UK Academic community is well represented in this mission with the University of Strathclyde facilitating the RF testing for the satellite.

Further to the North-East in Dundee, the UK company Bright Ascension is providing the flight and mission control software for the mission. It also has offices in Edinburgh and Bristol and since 2011 it has been developing software for space missions.

Back in Glasgow, Craft Prospect, another New Space company is working with the team to provide flight manuals and procedures for the mission. Craft Prospect has been in business since 2017 and delivers mission-enabling products and novel mission applications.

In Lincoln, data specialists, LN Systems has been working with Horizon Technologies to open and operate their new Amber data centre. This new facility will collect and process the data from the Amber mission and provide it to Horizon’s UK and export customers.

The Satellite Applications Catapult is delivering the mission for Horizon Technologies. Based in Harwell, the Catapult is part of a space cluster with over 100 space companies and more than 1,400 space sector employees. The satellite is one of six which make up the Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) programme, which helps companies to launch a data service into space. Horizon Technologies applied to be included in the programme, and was competitively selected by the IOD board, which includes representatives from the Catapult, the UK Space Agency and Innovate UK. The Catapult is responsible for overall delivery of the mission and specialises in making difficult things, like launching a new satellite into space, as easy as possible for partners so they can bring their products and services to their customers faster.

Horizon Technologies is based in Reading and provides maritime intelligence to customers from technologies like its FlyingFishTM and new BlackFishTM signals intelligence systems flying on ISR aircraft worldwide. The Amber satellite is the first in a proposed constellation of 24 satellites, which will provide governments and companies with unique worldwide data ranging from radar ‘fingerprints’ to satellite phones’ GPS locations to help combat illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy and terrorism.

Heading East, Infostellar has its UK base in Bristol, and is an international company headquartered in Tokyo and with offices in the US. Infostellar provides ‘Ground Segment as a Service’ to its customers – flexible and scalable ground station services via their cloud platform, ‘StellarStation’ which virtualises ground station networks. Infostellar is assisting the mission through expertise in ground station connectivity and is providing essential data links, with payload information passing from our ground station receiving antenna to the mission data centre via Infostellar’s established network.

In the South West, Spaceport Cornwall is the base for the first horizontal UK launch and the site where the satellites arrived to be integrated onto Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne. Spaceport Cornwall was created by a consortium of like-minded partners, and now provides a low-cost, competitive and sustainable hub to open up the potential in space for everyone, enabling innovation, modelling responsibility and inspiring change.

Finally, Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall has assisted with the testing of Amber prior to its launch and has supported the Catapult throughout preparations for the operations phase. The company will continue to support the satellite throughout its life – providing tracking and communications during launch and running daily mission operations from its Operational Control Area, at Goonhilly Downs. Cornwall is now home to over 55 space companies, and Goonhilly is at the heart of that ecosystem. It is the UK’s space communications gateway and serves as the ground station of choice for many of the world’s major satellite operators. Since 2019, the company has expanded its services to the Moon and beyond – providing deep-space communications links to spacecraft operated by international agencies and private enterprises.

Horizon Technology’s Amber brilliantly demonstrates the success of the UK supply chain and the capabilities we have today for the design, build, launch and operations of small satellites. But while this story is one of great companies collaborating for mutual success, what’s truly remarkable about this first launch is that not one, but four of the seven satellites that will be put into orbit from Cornwall were built in the UK – built by four different companies, with four different supply chains.

It’s truly an exciting time for space in the UK.

You can read more about the payloads in this recent press release from Virgin Orbit.