The first satellite launch from the UK will take place this summer, the government has announced, as Prometheus-2 takes off from Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay.
Built by In-Space Missions, based in Hampshire, and designed with Airbus Defence and Space, Prometheus-2 is a collaboration between the UK Ministry of Defence and international partners, including the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
Two shoebox-sized satellites, Cubesats, will provide a test platform for monitoring radio signals including GPS and sophisticated imaging, paving the way for a more collaborative and connected space communication system with ally countries.
The Cubesats will be carried on Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One rocket, which takes off horizontally from a modified Boeing 747 jet, named Cosmic Girl. They will operate in low Earth Orbit, around 550km above the Earth and 50-100km apart at 17,000mph.
Cubesat 1 includes a hyperspectral imager, a laser detector and a GPS receiver. The hyperspectral imager will capture multiple slivers of pictures over different wavelengths of light for higher definition images. The GPS receiver confirms the precise time and position of the satellite over the area of the Earth to be photographed.
Cubesat 2 includes two optical imaging cameras, a laser range finder, and a GPS receiver. One camera will be fitted with a wide-angle lens for a 180-degree view of Earth’s surface with the second camera observing the other Cubesat 1 to support space situational awareness and enables us to understand what else orbits the Earth.
These satellites will support MOD’s science and technology activities both in orbit and on the ground, through continued development of Dstl’s Hermes ground-station based in Portsmouth, and enabling improved coordination and collaboration with our international partners.
Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, Ian Annett, commented on the launch: “We are putting the UK at the forefront of small satellite launch, providing world-leading capability for commercial customers and governments within a global market, opening new opportunities and inspiring the current and next generation of British space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.
“These satellites showcase the UK’s strengths in designing and building satellites. Being able to launch from the UK and across Europe for the first time will boost our satellite industry further, create high skilled jobs across the country and deliver a key ambition of the National Space Strategy.”