Deal unites firms with shared vision of affordable access to space

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the British world-leader in low-cost rapid response small satellites, has announced the sale of a ten percent stake to California-based commercial rocket company SpaceX.

Rapid response and highly capable microsatellites and minisatellites are creating a new and potentially huge international market in low cost Earth observation, navigation, communications and space science missions for both civil and military applications.

The transaction enables the two companies to work together closely to achieve their shared vision of providing inexpensive and responsive access to space to meet this growing market demand.

SSTL, a highly innovative spinout company of the University of Surrey in the UK, has pioneered this new space field. Over the past two decades SSTL has produced reliable, high quality satellites at significantly lower costs by using advanced, terrestrial, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies which are adapted for use in the harsher conditions of space.

SSTL has in that time built and launched 23 small satellite missions for international customers, including the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) of four satellites launched in 2003, which is currently taking daily images of tsunami-hit regions for relief agencies in Asia. The DMC is capable of imaging anywhere on Earth every 24 hours (compared to once every 10-20 days typical of other satellite systems), making it ideal for disaster relief missions.

Currently SSTL has nine satellites under manufacture for international customers: the first Galileo satellite for ESA; two high resolution Earth Observation microsatellites for the UK MoD and China MoST; five microsatellites for the first commercial Earth Observation constellation (RapidEye); and a microsatellite for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, part of the NNSA of the US Department of Energy.

Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, CEO of SSTL, said: “I am delighted with SpaceX’s interest in the Company. Our two companies are effectively two sides of the same coin. If low cost access to space is to be an everyday reality, which is what both SSTL and SpaceX are working hard to achieve, then you need both low cost satellites and an economical way to put them into space. This alliance creates exciting opportunities for both companies to achieve exactly that, where the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts, bringing our customers even better value for money in space.”

It’s a view supported by Elon Musk, Chairman and CEO of SpaceX, who joins the SSTL Board as part of the deal. SpaceX has developed the Falcon I rocket, which is due for its first flight in the Spring of 2005 and which, at US$5.9 million, will have the world’s lowest cost per flight to orbit (LEO) of any production rocket.

As the Falcon I moves into service, SpaceX is also developing the larger Falcon V rocket, which is designed to compete with the likes of Boeing’s Delta II and Delta IV launch vehicles, but at only 20-30% of the cost.

Like SSTL, SpaceX can achieve these dramatic cost savings by the clever use of existing technology, and by keeping much of the production process in-house, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of having to rely on third party contractors to deliver on-time and to budget.

Elon Musk said: “In SSTL we see a successful, like-minded company that shares our vision for low cost space access. This deal makes perfect sense strategically, enabling our two companies to work more closely together in this rapidly developing market. I’m looking forward to working with Sir Martin Sweeting and his team at SSTL.”

Professor Patrick Dowling, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey and Chairman of the SSTL Board, said: “The University is delighted with this deal and is proud of SSTL’s success. It has grown from an idea in the mind of an academic more than 25 years ago to a world-leading enterprise today. SSTL is closely linked into the University’s research, and applies it in extremely innovative ways.”

Notes to Editors

SSTL ( is the world leader and most experienced company designing, manufacturing and operating low cost, rapid response small satellites – having launched 23 small satellite missions into low earth orbit for international customers over the past 23 years. The Company recently won the prestigious World Technology Network Award for Space 2004, beating high profile rivals including the JPL Cassini-Huygens team, NASA International Space Station and Mars Rover Teams, NASA Institute for Advance Concepts, and Bert Rutan’s Scaled Composites team (recent winners of the Ansari X-Prize). SSTL has enjoyed growth of revenues in excess of 20% p.a. for the last 5 years. SSTL’s CEO is Professor Sir Martin Sweeting FRS.

SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (, is developing a family of launch rockets intended to reduce dramatically the cost of access to space, and to increase reliability. The launch of SpaceX’s first rocket, Falcon I, is scheduled for early 2005 from the SpaceX complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California. It will carry a US Defense Department communications satellite. The maiden flight of their second rocket, Falcon V, is scheduled for early 2006, carrying a commercial satellite.

The University of Surrey ( is one of the UK’s leading professional, scientific and technological universities with a world-class research profile and a reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Groundbreaking research at the University is bringing direct benefit to all spheres of life – helping industry to maintain its competitive edge and creating improvements in the areas of health, medicine, space technology, the environment, communications, defence and social policy. UniS prides itself on its entrepreneurial environment, close links with industry and real-life application of research output. UniS graduates have the highest employment rates among all UK universities.