A Small Satellite with Big Plans: TechDemoSat-1

13 June 2014 by Joanna Barstow

SSTL module design engineers and cleanroom technicians with TechDemoSat-1 (Credit: SSTL)

It's been a while since we had a blog post about space instrumentation, so here's first-year DPhil student Peter Hatfield to tell you all about TechDemoSat-1:

"A thrilling moment for the UK space industry is fast approaching. The launch of the satellite TechDemoSat-1, which recently had its launch date announced as July 8th, is now only a few weeks away! TDS-1 is designed as an in-orbit test facility for exciting developments from UK industry and academia - it’s a "technology demonstration satellite", with lots of different payloads aboard from different organisations. The spacecraft was funded by the Technology Strategy Board and South East England Development Agency, it is also hoped to help show off what the UK’s satellite industry can do, promoting one of the country’s most successful industries to international business. TDS-1 is being developed and made by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), a company based in Guildford, "the world’s largest producer of small satellites" (with over 40% of global market). SSTL has been at the leading edge of many recent innovations and developments in the satellite industry, priding itself especially for changing the economics of space with greatly increased use of off-the-shelf technology (modifying existing technology for space use rather than making everything new from scratch). Some of their notable recent missions include their Disaster Monitoring Constellation, a collection of earth observation satellites working in tandem (for both commercial and humanitarian applications), and GIOVE-A, the first pathfinder satellite for the ESA Galileo positioning system. TDS-1 will be launched on Soyuz-2 launch vehicle with a Fregat upper stage from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It's about 1 cubic metre (they really do mean small satellites!) and only weighs 150kg, with the mission hoped to last three years!

The CMS instrument on TechDemoSat-1

Oxford Physics is a contributor to TDS-1, providing one of the key payloads, the Compact Modular Sounder (from the Oxford Planetary Experiments Group). Built, qualified and tested in Oxford, with the electronics designed and developed at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the aim of the instrument is to test a novel instrument design that can then be used for future missions to the Earth’s orbit and to other objects in our Solar System such as the Moon, Venus or an asteroid. CMS is sensitive to the temperature of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere at different heights as well as dust and trace chemicals such as nitrous oxide and methane - hopefully contributing to the blueprint for a future generation of instruments used to learn about atmospheres elsewhere in the Solar System.

The LUCID cosmic ray detector on TechDemoSat-1
Another important payload is the Langton Ultimate Cosmic ray Intensity Detector (LUCID), a cosmic ray detector that will give new data on the behaviour of the high energy particles that dominate the near earth orbit environment. LUCID uses Medipix detectors that were originally developed for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and will help us to understand the processes behind cosmic rays and learn how best to protect astronauts and satellites from these potentially damaging particles. One of the many notable aspects of LUCID however is that it is not based in a University or company, but in the Langton Star Centre - an institution within a secondary school where students have the opportunity to carry out new scientific research (Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, a state school in Kent, with boys and girls in the sixth form; full disclosure - my old school!). Students have worked with the phenomenal David Cooke of SSTL who has made LUCID a reality and over the last few years the students have developed their data acquisition systems with Dr Tom Whyntie of QMUL and carried out simulations in preparation of the work they will do once their detector is in space! It's not just LUCID though; inspired by Star Centre Director and tour-de-force Dr Becky Parker MBE, students work on many research projects across the sciences. Three students recently won the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Prize at the National Science and Engineering Competition for building a remote access robotic telescope system (that they have made open to other schools as well as restoring a 3.5m radio telescope from the University of Kent), and the school is the only one in the country to hold a licence to work on research using human DNA - testament to a truly inspirational approach to science in schools.

So keep an eye out in the next few weeks for the launch and think of TechDemoSat orbiting above your heads - plenty to be excited about not only as the first results come through in the next few months but also for the many exciting discoveries to come in the next few years!"

If you can't wait until launch to find out more, take a look at this video produced by SSTL. Peter is on Twitter @peterhatfield


TechDemoSat-1 launched successfully on 8th July from Baikonur Cosmodrome. You can find more information and pictures from the launch here.
TechDemoSat-1 launch. Credit: Roscosmos

Categories: spacecraft | Instruments