Catapult completes support to TechDemoSat as nominal operations end

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This week marks the end of TechDemoSat’s nominal three-year life span of operations, which have been run from the Satellite Application Catapult’s Missions Operations Centre in Harwell.

Launched in July 2014, TechDemoSat is a UK satellite built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) to demonstrate, test and prove the next generation of space hardware in orbit. The programme has been funded by Innovate UK, and supported by the UK Space Agency, with SSTL managing spacecraft operations from its Spacecraft Operations Centre in Guildford.

The aim of TechDemoSat was to demonstrate state-of-the-art small satellite technology for the commercial and scientific communities. It launched with eight payloads, grouped into four ‘suites’ – Maritime, Space Environment, Air and Land Monitoring, and Platform Technology – which together have been operating since October 2014.

Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult said: “The TechDemoSat mission was a pioneering programme for small satellites and has achieved some great results during its three-year programme. It has enabled UK industry and academia to qualify on-board payloads and satellite software on a UK satellite, overcoming the problem of a lack of in-orbit flight heritage. Since it launched, we have witnessed dramatic growth in the cubesat/smallsat market, with many new players coming into the market and looking to launch hundreds, if not thousands, of small satellite constellations.”

The most successful of the TechDemoSat payloads has been The Sea State payload – ReSI, with results published for ocean surface wind speeds up to more than 60mph. This has generated its largest impact on the CYGNSS mission – a $150m NASA Remote Sensing constellation enabled by TechDemoSat. Additionally, NASA has funded studies to process data from the payload undertaken by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), while CNES (French National Space Agency) is initiating a competition to process its results.

The LUCID payload has provided a major stimulus to school students being actively encouraged to engage with research relating to the space environment. Boosting this further was the creation of a new charity – The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) – which has helped LUCID’s performance gain much profile through students’ articles.

The Compact Modular Sounder’s payload measured the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, and is now providing students and researchers with some unique training opportunities. The new design of the command and data handling unit has been working flawlessly, communicating with the main spacecraft and monitoring the instrument’s health.

Stuart continued: “It always seems sad when a mission comes to the end of its nominal life. However, TechDemoSat has delivered invaluable data that will be used well into the future. We are now looking to the next major UK small satellite initiative – the In-Orbit Demonstration programme – to provide another new generation of payloads to test applications and services in space.”