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Inaugural Small Satellite launch took place on April 17 as part of In-Orbit Demonstration Programme

Chris Brunskill
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Wednesday 17 April 2019 saw the launch of the latest miniaturised weather observing and forecasting technology into space. Destined for the International Space Station, the launch is the first of the Satellite Applications Catapult’s InOrbit Demonstration (IOD) Programme, funded by Innovate UK.

In a little over 18 months, IOD-1 GEMS will have gone from initial concept to space. Designed by Orbital Micro Systems (OMS), the Passive Microwave Sounder instrument is less than a quarter of the size and over 70kg lighter than the existing equivalent, which in turn has reduced deployment costs by 95 percent

OMS’s involvement in the Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration programme has fuelled its expansion from Boulder, Colorado, to Edinburgh, UK. The company predicts this move will open up a wide variety of commercial opportunities in various markets including aerospace, maritime transportation, agriculture, insurance and energy.  

When IOD-1 GEMS is fully operational, airlines and maritime operators can plan routes that optimise weather conditions, reducing delays, fuel consumption and emissions while increasing safety. To put this in context, reductions of transoceanic flight times by just three minutes per segment will save the global airline industry nearly £1million in a single day. 

OMS chose to test its technology through the IOD programme because of the UK’s unique space ecosystem. Having pioneered the concept of small satellites and being the global leader in the development of large constellations, the UK is recognised worldwide for its ability to foster innovation in space services. We could have gone anywhere, but the UK space industry is unparalleled in terms of innovation, opportunity, and speed-to-market,” said William Hosack, CEO at OMS. 

He continued: 

“We believe we are creating a new paradigm in weather forecasting. The IOD Programme allows us to prove our technology in space and de-risk it for both investors and customers. An extraordinary “space ecosystem” has been developed in the UK and OMS is excited to be investing in it.” 

Stuart Martin, CEO at Satellite Applications Catapult, said: The successful launch of IOD-1 GEMS is the perfect example of how the In-Orbit Demonstration programme should work. Through offering OMS the opportunity to test their space-based service and supporting the expansion of their operations to Edinburgh, we have been able to ensure future growth for the UK space sector.”    

Tim Just, Head of Space at Innovate UK, said: “This is a significant milestone for the In-Orbit Demonstration programme as we see the first of six satellites launched. IOD-1 GEMS project is breaking new ground and illustrating the strength of the support provided in the UK for space and satellite businesses.”