PARIS — Small-satellite specialist Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Britain, in a surprise announcement, on Feb. 16 said a senior Airbus Defence and Space official would become chief executive as of April 1.
Patrick Wood, most recently head of engineering and operations at Airbus Defence and Space’s British branch and a former manager of Airbus’ Skynet 5 military satellite telecommunications service contract with the British Defence Ministry, will become SSTL chief executive, SSTL said.
The SSTL announcement made no mention of Matt Perkins, who had been the company’s chief executive for eight years before leaving in November. No announcement of Perkins’ departure was made at the time.
Perkins could not immediately be reached for comment. His LinkedIn page said he was available for employment and he had left SSTL sometime in November.
In response to SpaceNews inquiries, SSTL said that Perkins “decided it was time to move on” after eight years in the post. In the past two years, Perkins has also been deputy chief executive of UKspace, the space industry association.
One industry official said Airbus, which is SSTL’s principal shareholder, had been disappointed with the company’s 2014 financial performance and determined at a board of directors meeting in late 2014 that a change at the top was needed.
This official said Wood would appear to be a good fit for SSTL in part because he is an engineer with deep experience and knowledge of SSTL by virtue of having been on the company’s board of directors. “SSTL is really an engineering culture and Patrick should do well there,” the official said. “I don’t think many would have a problem with the choice.”
SSTL, as part of an Airbus-led initiative, is expected to conclude a contract this spring to provide its first geostationary-orbiting satellite platform for Paris-based Eutelsat’s inaugural Quantum satellite. The Quantum product is designed to maximize the ability of a satellite owner to change satellite coverage and power at will once the satellite is in orbit.
Quantum is being managed as part of a European Space Agency program called AnySat, in which the British government agreed to invest 60 million euros ($75 million) for a 90 percent stake. Future Quantum spacecraft are likely, and while the technology is applicable to other satellite platforms, including Airbus’ Eurostar line, the initial Quantum contract will give SSTL an in-orbit validation of its geostationary product line. SSTL up to now has focused on smaller satellites in low Earth orbit, but it also has produced payloads for Europe’s Galileo navigation satellites, which operate in medium Earth orbit.