Small satellite testing gets funding boost

A new facility has been established as part of the government’s £200m funding for Earth Observation

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space have joined forces to create a facility for calibrating small satellites.

Funded through the UK government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology’s (DSIT) £200m Earth Observation Investment Package that was launched last year, the facility is being designed, manufactured and tested at NPL’s Teddington site in south-west London and will be located at Harwell Campus. The facility will be used to ensure the required performance for full satellite payloads and components is achieved.

Emma Haynes, partnerships director at NPL, said: “This new facility forms part of NPL’s commitment to delivering the UK’s National Space Strategy. Space technology, as well as trusted Earth observation [EO] data, is intrinsic to addressing challenges such as climate change on a global scale. By supporting companies in developing and measuring the performance of their instrumentation, we’re ensuring they can be used with confidence.”

The facility is intended for use by small satellite providers at short notice to perform pre-flight calibration and characterisation tasks for individual satellites, which is used to check the end-to-end performance of a satellite instrument prior to launch.

According to NPL and RAL, this is a critical task for any space mission to ensure the satellite will collect reliable, accurate and trusted earth observation (EO) information that can be used by governments to make informed decisions on policies relating to climate change and emission reduction.

UK minister of state at DSIT, George Freeman MP, said: “Small satellite companies often struggle to find affordable and accessible calibration facilities, limiting the prospect of innovative new companies thriving in the UK’s fast-growing space sector, now worth £17.5bn.

“This new facility will provide a much-needed service to level the playing field for these companies, while driving economic growth in the UK. Such companies are playing an increasingly important role in monitoring our planet and collecting vital data on climate change, emissions and sustainable development.

“By ensuring satellites are properly calibrated, we can be confident that the data they collect is accurate and reliable – helping us to make better decisions about how to protect our planet”
George Freeman, DSIT

“By ensuring that these satellites are properly calibrated, we can be confident that the data they collect is accurate and reliable – helping us to make better decisions about how to protect our planet, through means such as monitoring Earth’s temperature levels. This is the UK delivering on our commitment to support the UK Earth observation sector.”

The facility will build on NPL’s and RAL Space’s existing programmes that support the UK’s Earth observation sector, with a particular focus on how EO technology and data can help solve global challenges such as climate change. According to NPL and RAL Space, these programmes also aim to create opportunities to encourage individuals to develop their skills and build their careers in the UK, and explore new international collaborations.

Sarah Beardsley, director at RAL Space, said: “The Small Satellite Calibration Facility will play a pivotal role in allowing companies to enhance the quality of their satellite data for a growing user community, at a lower cost.”

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