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UK Space Agency kicks off CubeSat pilot programme

The UK Space Agency has today (Wednesday 10th November) opened the payload competition for its United Kingdom Universal Bus Experiment (UKube1) - a one year pilot mission in which the UK will launch a miniature satellite that will carry up to 3 different payloads into space, testing new technologies and carrying out new space research quickly and efficiently.

UKube1 is an exciting and novel collaboration between the UK Space Agency, industry and academia, and is envisaged as the pilot for a full national CubeSat programme. The low cost, largely off-the-shelf nature and rapid turnaround of CubeSat missions means that they can be used to drive the development of innovative technologies and to promote economic growth. Only this week, The UK Space Agency announced that the UK space industry has grown by about 10% a year through the recession to reach an annual turnover of £7.5B.

Dr David Williams, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said, “UKube1 will allow us to test the suitability of a CubeSat programme for fast-tracking some of the UK’s new and cutting-edge space technology and performing unique science at a relatively low cost. We’re looking forward to receiving the innovative payload proposals that our skilled UK scientists and engineers will suggest.”

The funding partners for UKube1 are the UK Space Agency, TSB and STFC. The spacecraft is being developed through an existing Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with innovative Scottish space company Clyde Space and the University of Strathclyde. The platform development is supported through internal funding from ClydeSpace and STFC sponsorship of the KTP. The UK’s largest space company, EADS Astrium Ltd, is providing engineering and programme management support to the Agency for the programme.

Craig Clark, CEO of Clyde Space, said, “Clyde Space is delighted to be part of the UKube1 programme. UKube1 is a fantastic opportunity for innovative UK companies to get together with likeminded UK academics and be creative in space. The UK Space industry has recently set out ambitious growth plans and innovation is going to be key to achieving those ambitions. CubeSats provide an ideal platform to prove our new ideas in space, quickly and at a fraction of the cost of typical space missions. I think that UKube1 also demonstrates the willingness of the new UK Space Agency to recognise market trends and act on this knowledge to help UK companies operate at the forefront of these markets.’

Dr Ronan Wall, UKube Programme and Engineering Manager at Astrium added, "Developing new concepts for space can be both a time-consuming and costly process, but cubesats provide the space industry with a platform for rapid innovation in a low risk environment. Astrium is lending its engineering expertise to this project as we recognise the multiple benefits it will bring in terms of technological development, creating new supply chains and hands-on inspiration."

Launch of UKube1 is planned for December 1, 2011. Up to three payloads from UK based providers will be selected for flight, with at least one back up which itself will be flown on a following UKube, on approval of the full national programme.

A number of existing CubeSat missions, operated by other countries, are targeted at science applications and especially at studies that can be carried out at low-Earth orbits such as space weather studies, atmospheric science, energetic particle studies and spacecraft damage studies. Examples include NASA’s GeneSat-1, a 5 kilogram CubeSat which is carrying bacteria inside a miniature laboratory and NASA’s Firefly mission which is studying the relationship between lightning and mysterious bright flashes of gamma radiation in the upper atmosphere of our planet.

The low-Earth orbit of CubeSats is also ideal for disaster monitoring and Earth sciences, as the lower a satellite orbits, the less time it takes to complete a revolution of the Earth. Constellations of Earth-monitoring CubeSats could be set up far more cheaply than regular satellite constellations and could be used for all kinds of applications, including bush-fire early warning, live maps and Tsunami warning. CubeSats also lend themselves well to education and offer great opportunities for hands-on training of the next generation of our space workforce.

Press contact

  • Julia Short 
    Press Officer
    Uk Space Agecny
    Tel: +44 (0)1793 418069


Images of CubeSats are available from the UK Space Agency Press Office

Notes for editors

The Announcement of Opportunity (PDF - link opens in a new window) is an encouragement for UK entities to get involved in the pilot mission – UKube1.

The Announcement of Opportunity (PDF - link opens in a new window)and the full information pack (ZIP archive - link opens in a new window)for potential payload providers are available on the UK Space Agency website.

The mission is a fast programme of 12 months duration in total, which will prove the collaborative UKube programme concept by launching a three unit (10cm x 10cm x 34cm) CubeSat.

UK-based entities are invited to submit a proposal for a payload slot on this pilot mission. Initial Expressions of Interest (300 words including brief payload description) are required by Wednesday 24 November with full (10 page) proposals to be submitted by Wednesday 8 December. For further details please see the AO webpage (link opens in a new window).

The payloads must be ready for flight within six months from payload kick-off. However, only the Flight Model of the payload will be required from each provider.

Payload candidates who wish to develop their payload with support from an HEI and who are eligible can apply for short Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) specifically identified for this programme. Further details will be provided in the Announcement of Opportunity. Payload providers must provide their own funding if KTP is not suitable.

Expressions of Interest for Ground segment / operations support and launch brokerage will be sought in the near future via separate announcements. The opportunity to provide the ground segment and support the programme through operations will be offered to a suitable organisation. The Ground Segment and Operations support entity must provide their own funding. In return, the organisation will secure a unique opportunity to operate the national UK CubeSat and enhance education activity. The Ground Segment must operate in accordance with international amateur radio regulations.

All participants will be selected by an independent UK Space Agency committee, involving the funding partners (UK Space Agency, STFC and TSB). Participants must be UK based.

Request for clarifications on the programme should be directed to Caroline Harper. Request for clarification on the KTP scheme should be directed to Major Chahal. Clarifications may be published on the UK Space Agency website for all potential proposers to see. Please note that clarification requests received after Wednesday December 1, 2010 will not receive a response.

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space. It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions. The UK civil space programme budget is currently in the order of £312m per year – about 77% of which is the UK’s contribution to European Space Agency (ESA) projects.

Second only to the USA in space science, the UK's thriving space sector contributes £6.5bn a year to the UK economy and supports 68,000 jobs.

The UK Space Agency:

  • Co-ordinates UK civil space activity
  • Encourages academic research
  • Supports the UK space industry
  • Raises the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad
  • Increases understanding of space science and its practical benefits
  • Inspires our next generation of UK scientists and engineers
  • Licences the launch and operation of UK spacecraft
  • Promotes co-operation and participation in the European Space programme

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