SSTL’s Brooks Hopes SWIR Contract Leads to ESA Breakthroughs in 2011
[Satellite News 01-07-10] Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.’s (SSTL) 10 million euro ($13.10 million) contract award to provide a Short Wave Infra-Red (SWIR) spectrometer for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel 5 precursor atmospheric monitoring mission was a timely boost for the company and could lead to more lucrative contracts with ESA going forward, SSTL Director of Earth Observation and Science Paul Brooks told Satellite News.
Brooks said the contract award was critical for the company’s effort to establish a successful track record in providing scientific instrumentation to ESA. “We delivered NIRSpec for the James Webb Telescope last year and are currently in the middle of providing the Multispectral Imager (MSI) for the EarthCARE mission. From a strategic point of view, the SWIR contract is important as it helps develop the SWIR capability that we believe has significant commercial value in the remote sensing market.”
The SWIR spectrometer will be used to measure carbon monoxide (CO) and methane (CH4) – the latter being the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas – in the atmosphere. The Sentinel 5 Precursor mission will provide a source of accurate and detailed data following the completion of the ESA’s Envisat Mission. SSTL’s Optical Payloads Group (OPG) will coordinate an industrial consortium on these missions with the Netherlands’ Institute for Space Research (SRON) and France’s Sofradir.
Brooks explained the terms of SSTL’s direct involvement in the project. “We will be delivering the spectrometer to our Astrium Group colleagues in Dutch Space who are the prime contractors for the S5P payload. Our role is to design the spectrometer, procuring the detectors from Sofradir and the front end electronics from SRON, build and test the spectrometer and then support the integration of the spectrometer with the front end telescope at Dutch Space,” he said.
The contract award follows a significant amount of work that SSTL has already undertaken with Dutch Space in ensuring the demanding technical requirements are met – particularly in relation to the ability of the optical and SWIR instruments to work in close alignment. Brooks said he is confident that SSTL’s Payload Group will leverage these developments into solid growth in 2011.
“On the back of these successes and our plans for 1m class systems, we are strengthening the group to ensure we can deliver our five-year plan. OPG plays a critical role in that plan. The high-resolution missions we expect to sign in 2011 will form the core of the new work this year. We are also happy to provide the instruments we fly to other customers and I would expect this market to grow this year,” said Brooks.
SSTL’s OPG is currently working on a number of studies under contract to ESA related to future missions and is hoping to be involved in the full Sentinel 5 mission study to be commenced this year. According to Brooks, the S5P precursor mission gives SSTL an ideal opportunity to work with ESA to show how the proven small satellite techniques pioneered at SSTL can be applied to ESA missions.
“While we do not expect this to apply immediately to the most demanding scientific missions that require careful development and cutting edge technologies, there are complementary requirements where we believe there is a significant benefit in applying a lower cost approach. An example of this would be ‘gap filling,’ as was the case for GIOVE-A and S5P. It is clear that the austerity measures being applied by all governments will feed through to ESA and EU programs and if we can demonstrate that some of the critical but less technically demanding requirements can be met by a lower cost approach, this will help maintain the overall scope of activity being required by ESA.”