Surrey Satellite Technology Limited

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Surrey Satellite Technology Limited

Tycho House
Surrey Space Center
20 Stephenson Road
Surrey Research Park
Guildford, GU2 7YE
United Kingdom
Telephone: (
+ 44) 1483-803-803
Fax: (
+ 44) 1483-803-804
Web site:

Private Company
Employees: 210
Sales: £25 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 334511 Search, Detection, Navigation, Guidance, Aeronautical, and Nautical System and Instrument Manufacturing; 336411 Aircraft Manufacturing; 336413 Other Aircraft Parts and Auxiliary Equipment Manufacturing; 336414 Guided Missile and Space Vehicle Manufacturing; 541330 Engineering Services; 541710 Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences; 811219 Other Electronic and Precision Equipment Repair and Maintenance; 927110 Space Research and Technology

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited is the leading contractor for small satellite missions in the world. Since being established in 1985 as a private spin-off company by the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, it is responsible for making space programs affordable for countries such as China, Algeria, Portugal, Turkey, and Chile. About one-half of Surrey's revenues come from the sale of low-cost Earth observation micro-satellites that it builds in its on-campus facilities and the other half from know-how transfer programs, which enable students, scientists, and engineers from all over the world to obtain hands-on satellite mission education and training. Surrey-built satellites orbit Earth daily, performing essential functions such as generating images, aiding navigation and communications, and performing remote sensing and environmental monitoring as well as disaster assessment when needed.


In the late 1970s, Professor Sir Martin Sweeting was just a junior researcher in Surrey University's Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering when he realized that sophisticated miniaturization techniques then being developed for microcomputers could be used to make small fully functional satellites. Bucking the growing trend to make spacecraft larger and more powerful, Sweeting and a group of academic and research staff designed and manufactured a spacecraft that weighed just 110 pounds, a fraction of the weight of a normalsized satellite. The micro-satellite was built in about 30 months at a cost of less than £500,000, and in 1981 was offered a free piggyback launch aboard a NASA Delta rocket. UoSAT-1 was the first small satellite to carry microprocessors for autonomous operation. It was designed to operate only three years but remained in orbit until October 1989.

The 1984 launch of UoSAT-2, designed to demonstrate store-and-forward communications and built on campus in just six months, convinced Sweeting that micro-satellites could fill the need for small, well-focused missions. Faced with budget constraints, the University of Surrey in 1985 created its Spacecraft Engineering Research Unit and formed Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) as a technology transfer company with the idea that micro-satellite research and development could generate profits in the commercial sector, which could then be used for further research and education at the university.

For the next several years, Surrey continued its pioneering work in micro-satellites but its growth was delayed due to a lack of small-satellite launch opportunities in the wake of the 1986 Challenger disaster. With cargo space on NASA launches at a premium, Surrey used the more affordable and available European Ariane boosters for UoSAT-3 and UoSAT-4 in 1990, and UoSAT-5 in 1991. The first two UoSAT missions were funded internally by the university but Uo-SATs 35 were largely financed with commercial experiments onboard from clients that included NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Japan's Mitsubishi.

In 1991, larger conventional satellites weighed over a ton and cost about $200 million to build and launch; UoSAT-5 weighed about 110 pounds and cost less than $1 million from order to orbit. Funded by Surrey Satellite and the U.K. Science and Engineering Research Council, UoSAT-5 was the first Earth observation satellite manufactured and operated independent of an international organization, national government, or the military. Like previous UoSATs, all based on Surrey's "Microbus" platform design, UoSAT-5 had many missions. It carried cameras, store-and-forward communications systems, and experiments on semiconductors and solar cells. All five UoSATs platforms, modular components and experiments were designed and built on Surrey University's campus by company staff, which numbered about 30 in 1991, with help from postgraduate students.


The year 1992 brought Surrey an order for its first dedicated spacecraft for an international customer. The company developed KITSAT-1, a small $9.2 million, meteorological and astronomy research spacecraft, in conjunction with South Korea's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. The technology transfer contract included plans for KITSAT-2, which was built in South Korea by a Korean team with only minimal company oversight. The August launch of an Ariane booster that carried KITSAT-1 into space and South Korea into the space age also carried the S-80/T, another Surrey "Microbus," funded by the French space agency, CNES, and designed to demonstrate data, messaging, and positioning reporting applications. With 50 percent of the spinoff company's profits being reinvested, a new on-campus mission control facility was built in 1992. Surrey University's Center for Satellite Engineering Research also housed R&D labs and "clean rooms" necessary for satellite manufacturing.

The company continued its double launch schedule in 1993 with HEALTHSAT-2, a turnkey sale to U.S. health organizations, and POSAT-1, a technology transfer transaction made with Portugal. HEALTHSAT-2, with its store-and-forward technology, was designed to help medical and disaster-relief teams in remote areas of Africa communicate with their U.S.-based research charity organizations. Portugal's first foray into space, POSAT-1, was equipped with wide-angle and telephoto cameras, capable of imaging objects as small as 200 feet.


SSTL's Mission and Vision: To be the recognized world leader in providing customers with affordable access to space. Leading the small satellite market across the full spectrum of missions in Earth orbit and beyond. Tailoring price, performance, schedule and risk to meet each customer's requirements. Stimulating and exploiting research into advanced small satellite systems. Fostering a culture of team-spirit, innovation and excellence. Generating consistent and robust financial success for shareholders.

The Cerise, built for France's Alcatel Space Industries and the French Defense Ministry, piggybacked on France's first military spy satellite aboard an Ariane booster in July 1995. The Cerise was a basic UoSAT Earth-observation micro-satellite that was enhanced by French instruments to map radio emitters around the world. FASat-A, launched in August 1995, was Surrey's first failure in space. Based on KITSAT and POSAT models, it was part of a $4.5 million technology transfer deal with the Chilean Air Force that involved joint spacecraft construction, installation of a ground station in Chile, and training for eight air force officers. Put into orbit aboard a Ukrainian Tsyklon booster fromRussia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome, FASat-A failed to separate from the main satellite and never became operational.


In January 1996, the company began a $4.7 million, 18-month-long technology transfer training program with Thai Microsatellite Co. that focused on the 1998 construction and launch of Thai-Paht, a communications and imaging micro-satellite. In August, the French military satellite Cerise became the first craft to be damaged in space by floating debris. The Surrey-built craft was rendered inoperable in a collision with a ten-yearold piece of an Ariane rocket.

In May 1997, the company won a $5.1 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to build PICOSat. It was the first contract to be awarded by the United States to a U.K. company that involved military-technology payloads. In October, Surrey became the only non-U.S. company to secure a contract to supply rapidly developed satellite core-systems to support NASA's science program. From 1994 to 1997, the nonprofit company had increased its sales by fourfold to around $12 million.

On July 10, 1998, a Russian rocket carried into orbit two more Surrey-built spacecraft, the 110-pound micro-satellite Thai-Paht for Thailand, and FASat-B, an insurance-funded replacement for FASat-A, which was lost in space in August 1995. FASat-B, designed to monitor the ozone layer above Chile, separated cleanly from its Russian carrier satellite and successfully transmitted ozone images to ground stations in both Chile and England. In October 1998, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, entered into a technology transfer arrangement with Surrey and bought Tsinghua-1, the first of seven satellites it planned to use for disaster monitoring and communications research. The agreement called for Chinese scientists to work with company specialists in England on Tsinghua-1, with the remaining six spacecraft to be built in China. Five months later, in March 1999, Surrey announced a more extensive 25-year joint venture agreement with Tsinghua University to form the Tsinghua-Surrey Small Satellite Company. The company was set up to be 75 percent owned by China and 25 percent owned by Surrey.

On April 21, 1999, Surrey launched its experimental UoSAT-12, the company's first "smallsat," a 770-lb. communications and remote sensing satellite that was seven times the size of its signature micro-satellite. The extra capacity allowed the spacecraft to carry a bigger camera, upgraded store-and-forward communication components, and propulsion, attitude control, and navigation experiments. The demonstration spacecraft was carried into LEO (low-Earth orbit) by a modified Soviet-era SS-18 ICBM. That same year also brought the launch of Clementine, a military micro-satellite built for Alcatel and the French Defense Ministry.

In a cooperative effort between NASA and Surrey, UoSAT 12 in May 2000 became the first spacecraft to have its own Internet address, making it possible for the first time for an engineer using a laptop computer and simple keystrokes to send commands to an orbiting spacecraft. On June 28, 2000, China joined the space age when Tsinghua-1 rode a Russian booster into orbit. The Cosmos rocket also carried another history-making company-built spacecraft. About the size of a grapefruit and weighing 14.3 pounds, the Surrey Nanosatellite Applications Platform (SNAP-1) was the world's smallest fully functional nanosatellite. SNAP-1 carried miniaturized components: four cameras, three radios, a GPS (global positioning system) receiver, and a rocket engine. It successfully rendezvoused in space with Tsinghua-1, made video inspections of the craft and demonstrated "orbital flying formation" capabilities that were necessary for the planned deployment of clusters of mission-coordinated satellites.


The University of Surrey's first micro-satellite rides a NASA rocket into orbit.
Surrey Satellite Technology Limited is founded to commercialize university's satellite research.
Surrey's UoSAT-5 becomes first independent Earth observation satellite in space.
Company sells its first dedicated spacecraft to an international customer.
Surrey enters into 25-year joint venture agreement with China.
Company-made micro-satellite becomes China's first spacecraft.
Surrey leads world's first disaster monitoring service in space.
Company craft becomes first in orbit for Europe's 30-satellite, $2 billion Galileo project.

In January 2001, a panel of defense experts appointed by the U.S. Congress expressed concern that Surrey was transferring sensitive and possibly dangerous technology to foreign countries such as China. The panel did not accuse the company of anything illegal, but speculated that some of the technology transferred to its customer nations could be used for space weapons. October 2001 brought the launch of PICOSat, a 147-lb. micro-satellite developed for the U.S. Department of Defense for $5 million. It was the first time the United States had bought an off-the-shelf satellite. PICOSat was tailored to carry four mini-payloads designed to test an experimental battery and a new GPS receiver. Launched aboard an Athena booster, it was also the first time that a U.S. military satellite was carried into orbit by a Russian rocket.


December 4, 2002 marked the beginning of Surrey's most ambitious project as well as Algeria's first foray into space. The 198-lb. AlSAT-1, built by a joint British-Algerian team, became the first of five satellites in space slated to form the multinational Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC), a network of orbiting Earth-observation platforms. The first phase of the DMC, a collaboration between five nations from three continents, was completed in September 2003 when Algeria's spacecraft was joined by company-built micro-satellites for Nigeria (NigeriaSat-1), Turkey (BILSAT-1), and the United Kingdom (UK-DMC), all lifted into low-Earth orbit on a single Cosmos rocket.

Each satellite was independently owned, but shared data and resources, especially at a time of manmade or natural disasters such as flooding, mud slides, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and crop failures. Together, the imaging capability of the group of satellites in the DMC scanned an area ten times greater than anything available from any other commercial satellite in orbit, and could image any location on Earth within 24 hours (the American Landsat 7 could provide pictures of any given area only once in 17 days). Individually, the satellites provided customer nations with daily images and yielded a wealth of other applications such as geological and structural mapping, agricultural damage and yield data, and land-cover mapping. In October 2004, the company established DMC International Imaging (DMCII) as a wholly owned subsidiary to manage the DMC and to sell programmed and archived optical satellite imagery that it generated. The new company was called on quickly to provide image data to aid agencies and other organizations in assessing damage caused by a tsunami that hit Southeast Asia's Indian Ocean coastline on December 25, 2004.

In January 2005, Surrey announced that a 10 percent stake in the company was bought by SpaceX, a California-based commercial launch services startup owned by U.S. entrepreneur Elon Musk. Surrey University retained 80 percent ownership and the company's staff, through a share option scheme, was allotted ownership of the other 10 percent. On October 27, 2005, a Cosmos rocket blasted off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia with two more company spacecraft on board, TopSat and BEIJING-1. TopSat, a $7.5 million, 220-lb., military-civil surveillance spacecraft was funded by the British National Space Center and the U.K. Ministry of Defence. The 365-lb BEIJING-1, about the size of a refrigerator, featured more advanced Earth observation cameras than Tsinghua-1, China's first Surrey-made satellite. BEIJING-1, the most capable low-cost Earth observation satellite to date, was built for China's Ministry of Science & Technology to provide the Chinese government and commercial users with information on agriculture, water resources, and environment and disaster monitoring throughout China. BEIJING-1 was also designed to be the fifth satellite in the DMC and carried the most powerful cameras of the group.

The launch of GIOVE-A on December 28, 2005, was a major milestone for Surrey and for Europe. Built in just 27 months, the 1,324-lb. satellite was the company's largest and most complex spacecraft and the first it ever developed for the European Space Agency (ESA). GIOVE-A, cofunded by ESA and the European Commission, was the first satellite of Galileo, a 30-satellite, $2 billion system due to be operational in 2010 that would rival, if not surpass, the U.S. GPS and mark Europe's arrival as a major power in space. The GIOVEA's primary mission, achieved on January 12, 2006, was to secure Galileo's communications frequency allocation before a mid-2006 deadline.

April was a big month for Surrey as it moved its operations to "Tycho House," a brand-new, purpose-built facility on the Surrey Research Park, adjacent to campus. The company also entered into a partnership with the U.S.-based BAE Systems, a defense and aerospace company with more than 100,000 employees worldwide and over $28 billion in revenues in 2005. The alliance was formed to bring more affordable small satellite technology to established U.S. space authorities, such as NASA. In another business move, Surrey acquired the Sira Group, developers of sophisticated electro-optical instruments for environmental, commercial, and military applications. In June, the company was awarded an ESA contract to develop a greenhouse gas detector for space and in July, Surrey subsidiary DCM International Imaging won a secondyear contract to monitor the Amazonian rain forest.

With Professor Sir Martin Sweeting still guiding the university-based mini-space agency, which had supplied the world for almost three decades with high performance but low-cost satellites and related technology and training, Surrey was well positioned in 2006 for continued success as the need for affordable access to space continued to grow for developing countries wishing to be more competitive in an increasingly high-tech world economy. The company's ability to deliver sophisticated yet inexpensive space technologies had also made it a viable supplier and contractor for major established space organizations such as ESA and NASA, which would always be looking for ways to cut costs.

Ted Sylvester


DMC International Imaging.


Astrium Ltd.; Boeing Integrated Defense Systems; European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company EADS N.V.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company; Northrop Grumman Space Technology.


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