Cheaper, lighter and smaller satellites will test new technology that could monitor climate change and aid deep space navigation.
Satellite manufacturer Clyde Space and technology company Teledyne e2v said their newly-announced nanosatellite project could “create a new wave of space applications”. The team, funded by Innovate UK, aims to create a demonstration of technology to monitor tiny changes in the strength of gravity above Earth.
Teledyne and the University of Birmingham will provide new quantum technology to create super-cooled “cold atoms” in space. The cold atoms act as ultra-sensitive sensors able to map changes in gravity, helping monitor polar ice mass and ocean currents, and assisting space navigation.
The project will use Clyde Space’s CubeSat technology, fully functional satellites weighing about 4kg and with dimensions of 100 x 227 x 340mm. The nanosatellites are cheaper and smaller than traditional models, and have standard designs that can be adapted and added to.
“The lower mass and volume and the standardised interface into the launch vehicle makes it a lot lower-cost and practical to take advantage of launch opportunities,” said Chris Brunskill, head of Small Satellites and Future Constellations at Satellite Applications Catapult to Professional Engineering. “Very advanced modularisation of the technology means that you can turn these things around much more quickly.”
The standardisation of the technology makes access to space “much more realistic and feasible for a wider range of users,” he added, enabling many different scientific and commercial projects.
It also means the CubeSats will eventually bring the most up-to-date version of the quantum technology into orbit, said Clyde Space systems engineer Pamela Anderson. “It is a very fast-moving industry and we try to shorten the development times as much as possible,” she said to Professional Engineering. “That allows us to always fly the latest technology and to be constantly innovating and upgrading payloads and satellite technology, so that it’s always the most advanced missions.”
Further tests and wider deployment should follow the initial development project, she added.
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