UK to send “New Paradigm” in Weather Forecasting into Space

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Orbital Micro Systems signs contract for In Orbit Demonstration mission.

Inward investment thanks to Satellite Applications Catapult and UK space ecosystem: “The UK is the centre of gravity…”

“A new paradigm” in satellite technology will substantially improve weather observation and forecasting, resulting in lower aviation costs with increased safety, improved crop yields, and better risk management for insurance providers.

7 December 2017: The Satellite Applications Catapult, the space and data company, today signs a contract to put Orbital Micro Systems’ new miniaturised weather observing and forecasting technology into space, as part of its In Orbit Demonstration (IOD) Programme, funded by Innovate UK and managed by the Catapult.

The payload, consisting of a 10 x 10 x 15cm sized instrument in a 3U CubeSat satellite, will be launched in autumn 2018 by NanoRacks and put into low earth orbit via their CubeSat deployer (NRCSD) on the International Space Station*. Innovate UK has invested œ1.5 million in the IOD programme which offers a CubeSat platform from Clyde Space and associated launch for four missions.

OMS, originally of Boulder, Colorado, is a leader in developing advanced instrumentation for small satellites that gather weather data more frequently and with better clarity than the large institutional satellites that are currently in use. Using a number of innovative engineering techniques, OMS has reduced the footprint from satellites weighing up to 2,500kg down to a package the size of a shoebox. Just as importantly, OMS technology reduces weather satellite deployment costs by some 95 per cent.

Its Global Environmental Monitoring Satellites (GEMS) will record temperature, humidity and precipitation at different levels throughout the atmosphere. When the full constellation of 35 satellites is in service by 2020, OMS will be able to provide global coverage at 16km2 resolution, with data refreshed every 15 minutes, rather than once or twice per day which is currently the norm.

The company predicts this will open up a wide variety of opportunities in various markets including aerospace, maritime transportation, agriculture, insurance and energy. Airlines and shipping companies will be able to plan routes that optimise weather conditions, reducing delays, fuel consumption and emissions while operating with greater safety. Reductions of transoceanic flight times by just three minutes per segment will save the global airline industry nearly œ1 million in a single day.

The insurance markets will be able to transfer risk in near real-time, providing better support for their clients and freeing up more capital to expand reinsurance coverage.

The vastly improved refresh rate will also allow for more accurate forecasting and tracking of major weather events such as hurricanes, and better weather mitigation planning for the global farming industry. Global food security is a major concern of OMS, and the company is confident that GEMS will play a key role in this area.

The IOD mission will serve as the first step of the GEMS roll-out and provide the “proof of concept” for the first ever commercial space-based microwave radiometer sounding spectrometer, retrieving temperature data in eight vertical atmospheric layers.

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

“You have the research base and manufacturing expertise in companies such as Clyde Space. Britain is a leader in turning data into useful, saleable products. In London, we have access to insurance, finance and corporate clients. Additionally, between Reading and Exeter you have some of the best climate, meteorological and applications minds in the world. Most importantly, the Satellite Applications Catapult provides support that doesn’t exist anywhere else, helping ambitious companies prove fresh ideas and establish new markets.

“We believe we are creating a new paradigm in weather forecasting. The In Orbit Demonstration 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.”

The company has established its UK headquarters at Harwell, Oxfordshire, which is home to the Satellite Applications Catapult, the European Space Agency and more than 75 space-related businesses. OMS plans to invest “significantly” in the UK over the next five years. The contract was signed in Harwell at the STFC RAL Space Appleton Space Conference in front of leading figures from the UK space sector.

Stuart Martin, CEO, Satellite Applications Catapult, said: “Our role is to grow the market for space-based services and make sure the UK is at the forefront of it. The IOD Programme is a prime example of the sort of opportunity available here and nowhere else; an innovator with a bright idea could see their concept realised and working, in space, within 16 months. This has helped attract OMS to Harwell and we look forward to welcoming them and other international investors into a diverse and thriving UK space community.”

Tim Just, Head of Space, Innovate UK, added: “This ground-breaking project from Orbital Micro Systems is exactly the type of innovative technology we wanted to see on the IOD mission. The decision by the company to invest in the UK at Harwell is a significant vote of confidence in the UK space sector, and in the work of the Satellite Applications Catapult.”

Craig Clark, CEO, Clyde Space, said: “It’s an exciting time for the space industry, and the development of this new satellite technology, pioneered by Orbital Micro Systems, will truly transform weather observation and forecasting. Innovation has always been our focus and we are delighted to provide our technical solution in support of the OMS mission.”

*via NanoRacks’ Space Act Agreement with NASA?s US National Lab.


More about the IOD Programme

IOD-2/3/4 (next application deadline is 10 January 2018)