U.K. Investing in Four Early Stage Space Projects

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PARIS — The British government is investing in a new telecommunications satellite platform, a ruggedized Ka-band satellite communications terminal, a satellite system to measure terrestrial carbon levels and a low-cost space-based radar sensor  under financing announced April 11 by the U.K. Space Agency.

The government contribution of 6 million British pounds ($9.5 million) will be matched by contractor investment, bringing the total commitment to more than 11.5 million pounds for the four projects combined, the agency said.

The early stage investment in these selected projects is intended to strengthen British industry’s position if the projects are selected for full-scale development by the 19-nation European Space Agency (ESA) or the European Commission. A couple of them could be developed by British industry alone.

The investment will help British industry “develop highly commercial, cutting-edge space technology that will be in demand in a growing global market,” British Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said in a statement announcing the award of the contracts.

Some of the projects are already the subject of interest by ESA and others. Along with the French space agency, CNES, ESA has expressed interest in designing a telecommunications satellite that would weigh between 3,000 and 6,000 kilograms at launch.

The British program will be led by Astrium Ltd. of Britain and include a half-dozen partners including Qinetiq Ltd. and Thermacore Europe Ltd. ESA has begun early work on what it calls a Next-Generation Platform designed to lower the cost, and speed the delivery time, for commercial satellites developed in Europe for the global market.

The second project being financed under Britain’s National Space Technology Programme is intended to pursue work on a suitcase-size, ruggedized Ka-band terminal for use in civilian markets, including civil-protection agencies.

Avanti Communications, a British satellite operator that has launched its first Ka-band satellite covering Europe, is leading this work, with partners including Alcatel Lucent Telecom Ltd., British APCO, Cobham and Nottingham Scientific.

The third project will design a system to provide government authorities with a global, high-resolution map of carbon stocks and carbon flows. Measuring the concentration of carbon, a major contributor to global warming, from space for a future carbon-trading market or to verify treaty compliance is the subject of several proposed projects in Europe.

DMC International Imaging Ltd. is leading the project, with Carbon Associates Ltd. and University College London.

The fourth project is intended to put British industry in the lead position for developing a low-cost S-band synthetic aperture radar Earth observation satellite. The project, called NovaSAR, “completely changes the economics of the radar remote sensing market and SAR satellite ownership,” the U.K. Space Agency said in a document outlining the projects.

The project is being led by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), with Astrium Ltd. and Spur Electron Ltd. as partners.

“Once developed and proven, SSTL and Astrium aim to bring this product to market ahead of potential competitors and achieve a ‘1st mover’ position,” the agency said. “This would place the UK at the forefront of a new and exploitable global market generating income through export sales, service provision and applications development.”