Watch this space…
Profile: Clyde Space
Core business: Small and micro satellite systems
Major customers: European Space Agency, NASA, US Air Force
Watch this space
The satellite may only be a few centimetres across, but it could be the next big thing in Scotland's fast-expanding space technology industry. This year, Clyde Space plans to put the first made-in-Scotland satellite up into orbit, as part of a nationwide project called UKube-1, which also brings together the Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory at the University of Strathclyde as well as Glasgow-based Steepest Ascent and MESL Microwave of Edinburgh, plus several other UK-based organisations.
Clyde Space entered a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Strathclyde about three years ago, and the two partners took up the UKube-1 challenge in 2010, as part of an initiative supported by the UK Space Agency to launch the UK's first miniature satellite – a device which measures only 10cm x 10cm x 34cm.
UKube-1 (UK Universal Bus Experiment) will enable scientists to test new space technologies and carry out new space research more cost-effectively and quickly, “making up in innovation what they lack in size.” It will also carry experiments selected from a competition open to companies and academics to come up with the most innovative ideas for payloads (see below).
The UKube-1 project is a dream come true for CEO Craig Clark, to help Scotland “enter the space race.” And as well as being part of a project that promotes the new miniature satellites and inspires young people to get interested in science, Clyde Space has effectively become its own customer, developing a CubeSat all of its own. “We have the freedom to design and build exactly what we want rather than a custom-built solution,” says David Castle, who's in charge of manufacturing at Clyde Space.
“The best way to market space products is through their successful demonstration in orbit,” adds Clark.
The Clyde Space story can be traced back to the early 1990s, when Clark studied power engineering at the University of Glasgow – and dreamed about space flight. After graduating in 1994, he spent 11 years at SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd)*, working as a power systems engineer, gaining experience in mission design, spacecraft testing, on-orbit operations and management. By the time he left SSTL, he had worked on a total of 25 missions – five times more than most people work on throughout their career.
Soon after he returned to Glasgow, Clark set up Clyde Space, to focus on power solutions for satellites, convinced there was a niche in the market. He also wanted the company name to reflect the fact the River Clyde had once made 25 per cent of all the world’s ships – and perhaps in the future could also make “spaceships.”
Soon after Clark returned from a space industry conference in Japan, Clyde Space won a SMART: Scotland award from Scottish Enterprise, and started to develop power systems for a new generation of CubeSats – tiny satellites which typically measure 10cm x 10cm x 18cm and weigh about 5kg.
“I hadn’t heard about CubeSats before my trip to Japan,” says Clark, “but I recognised it as a great opportunity.”
The company won its first customer in 2006, supplying two solar panels for South Africa's SumbandilaSat mission. This was soon followed by orders from Malaysia, Japan and the US. Today, its client list includes the European Space Agency, NASA and the US Air Force, as well as customers in Turkey, South Africa, India, China, South America and Canada. The company has about a 30–40 per cent share of the global CubeSat power market, and has also supplied over 220 power systems for small satellites, making it the world's biggest supplier of this kind of power solution.
Early last year, Clyde Space secured a funding package worth £1 million, led by private equity firm Nevis Capital, Coralinn LLP, Scottish Enterprise, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Technology Strategy Board and Regional Selective Assistance, “to support innovation and growth across all company activities” as well as “to expand its product range and capability offering and increase its global market share.” This injection of funds has paid for a new 1,000-square-foot clean room, as well as new automatic testing equipment.
Scotland’s space industry is currently worth only £20+ million a year but Clark thinks Scotland has the potential to grow very rapidly, taking advantage of the skills we already have and the graduates coming on stream in subjects such as astronomy, physics, electronics and engineering.
Clark adds: “In Scotland, we can't compete with the big guys like NASA, but there is an opportunity to do something different and develop the space business here – and create thousands of jobs in the process.”
* Formed in 1985, SSTL is a commercial spin-out from the University of Surrey, specialising in the design of very small satellites. In 2008, the company was acquired and incorporated as an independent British company within the EADS Astrium NV group.
UKube-1: The payload
> TOPCAT – a device to measure the ionosphere and plasmasphere (the regions of space just beyond the Earth’s atmosphere), to help GPS users cope with weather conditions that adversely affect the global positioning system (GPS) and its applications (e.g. satellite navigation and telecommunications).
> A payload to demonstrate the feasibility of a patent held by EADS Astrium on using the radiation environment for true random number generation.
> FunCube – a sub-system for educational outreach to students at schools and colleges.
> The Open University’s CMOS Imager Demonstrator instrument – developed as a collaboration between the OU’s Centre for Electronic Imaging and e2v technologies, a supplier of scientific imagers for the space market. This will perform a variety of imaging tasks, including taking pictures of the Earth and providing an experimental test-bed for radiation damage effects in space.
> myPocketQub – five experiments that UK students and the public will be able to interact with, including SuperSprite – a satellite-on-a-chip proof-of-concept experiment.
Clyde Space products
Clyde Space makes high-performance subsystems for small satellites and microspacecraft, including standard products available online and one-off products (bespoke designs incorporating heritage circuits or a completely new design).
The company also offers heritage systems for non-standard spacecraft, including in-house products and licensed products from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), as well as high-performance, bespoke designs for small satellite missions, including complete or part power conditioning and distribution systems (PCDU), lithium polymer batteries, solar arrays and DC–DC Converters.
Electrical Power Systems
Modular designs that can be easily configured for bespoke projects.
Space-qualified lithium polymer batteries that have undergone extensive tests to assess their suitability for the space environment.
Small solar arrays for small satellites.
Space DC–DC Converters
High-efficiency, galvanically isolated and multiple output DC–DC Converters for space use.
Twice the power
Clyde Space recently developed a “double deployable” solar panel system designed to increase the power available on board a CubeSat. The new system enables power to be generated from the front and the back of the deployed solar panel arrays – essential for missions that don't track the sun.
According to the UK Space Agency, the UK's space sector contributes £7.5 billion a year to the UK economy, directly employs 24,900 people and supports a further 60,000 jobs across a variety of industries.