Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and Oxford Space Systems (OSS) have been awarded National Space Technology Programme funding to develop an innovative and stowage-efficient Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) payload.
Compared to optical sensors, the any-time/region imaging, capability of SAR makes it ideal for surveillance missions, which can serve both national security and environmental monitoring applications.
At present, the UK relies heavily on the United States for this capability but coupled with the UK soon having its own launch capability, this announcement sets out a clear path for sovereign UK capability in this field.
The SAR payload will be exclusively developed in the UK say the firms and will comprise of a highly stowage-efficient deployable antenna from OSS and a high bandwidth radar instrument and RF system from SSTL.
Successful completion of the project will enable the OSS antenna to be flown on a future demonstration mission from SSTL targeted for a 2021 launch.
According to a news release:
“Although an essential part of many geostationary telecoms satellites and likely to form a critical part of a large number of smaller Low Earth Orbit spacecraft, Europe currently does not have a flight-proven deployable antenna solution.
Existing deployable reflector antenna technologies tend to fold like an umbrella into a long cylindrical form which is not compatible with small launch envelopes and have significant structural challenges involved in supporting the cylindrical antenna during launch.
The OSS novel deployable ‘wrapped-rib’ SAR antenna is highly stowage-efficient and deploys from a ‘doughnut’ type configuration.”
SSTL say it has been working on low-cost SAR mission solutions for many years and in 2018 launched NovaSAR-1, a 450kg low cost S-Band SAR technology demonstration mission which is acquiring SAR data for mission partners the UK Space Agency, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and the Indian Space Research Organisation.
SAR permits all weather Earth Observation, irrespective of time of day or night. Anticipated applications will employ object detection and feature extraction from single polarisation images, mainly focused on manmade objects and pattern-of-life information.
Andrew Cawthorne, SSTL’s Director of Sales and Business Development said:
“The novel antenna technology from OSS combined with SSTL’s low cost remote sensing systems are key enablers to realise a new generation of disruptive, cost-versus-performance, SAR and mixed SAR/optical missions.
We believe that there is a strong market for this new SAR payload, with a shift in the market towards small satellites in LEO constellations delivering increased revisit times and a demand for non-optical EO data or combined SAR/optical data.”
Shefali Sharma, Senior Commercial Strategist at Oxford Space Systems said:
“This collaboration under UK Space Agency’s NSTP Flagship funding allows us to focus on maturing a variant of our ‘wrapped rib’ antenna toward on-orbit demonstration. We view this novel SAR payload as a key enabler for the next-generation of communications and SAR services from orbit.
The antenna is highly scalable and tunable and has been specifically designed for volume production, targeting smallsat constellations. As such, it’s suitable for a range of commercial opportunities not only here in the UK, but globally too.”
Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:
“Our National Space Technology Programme is all about supporting the development of space technology and skills to drive growth in the UK economy.
The funding to develop this innovative Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) payload will enable an exciting collaboration on new technology that will be developed here in the UK and will be of huge interest to customers in Europe and the rest of the world.”