You may have read in the news recently that Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) were awarded a grant to build a “technology demonstration satellite” or TechDemoSat-1.
If not you can read this here.
What is fascinating and encouraging, not only from a Corvos Astro Engineering point-of-view, is that this is a satellite built primarily to test out UK technologies in space…
In other words this a satellite with the sole purpose to get flight heritage for new technologies and ideas.
A second and equally encouraging aspect of TDS-1 is that there is an emphasis on fast turnaround, simple, low-power and cost technology for each of the prospective payloads.
At times this can seem at odds with the regular practice of ‘over-engineering’ everything on space missions. This practice is often born of a combination of trying to manage risk through requirements and paradoxically actually running away from risk and not being realistic by using requirements as a ‘catch-all’.
Does TechDemoSat represent a fresh, fast and uniquely British approach to space missions?
The European Space Agency regular dominates science missions in Europe for the obvious reason that they are the primary agency and developer and many of the missions are seen to be cutting-edge and worth bidding for by primes and suppliers.
But with these missions often comes a lot of requirement specifications, well-meaning and useful as they are, but at odds with a fast, lean, ‘really get to the mission needs approach’.
It is not a fault of a person or people; more a group-think that the only way to build satellites is to issue long trains of requirements. And follow that with long meetings ticking boxes and concentrating on minutiae.
This often delays the process and over-complicates the technology instead of having a satellite with quickly-built and tested technology that has a chance at getting into space and getting some priceless flight heritage!
So for one thing it’s good to see a UK satellite being built to test technologies quickly. It is reminiscent of the STRV programs that were performed at DERA in Farnborough (now QinetiQ Ltd)
It’s also good that it will be (hopefully) built, tested and flown quickly…to grasp the opportunity and to provide real data and answers to that crucial demand made of any space technology:
Does it actually work in space?
Good luck to TechDemoSat and SSTL! We’ll be watching.