SCESA: bringing space technologies down to earth

UKube-1A new centre that will enable businesses to tap into the UK’s multibillion-pound space sector is to launch this month at the University of Strathclyde. SCESA – the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications – is one of three hubs being developed by the Satellite Applications Catapult. MOD DCB features writer Julie Shennan caught up with the Director of the Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory at Strathclyde, Professor Colin McInnes, to find out more.

The Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications (SCESA) is one of three hubs being developed by the Satellite Applications Catapult, part of the UK’s network of technology and innovation companies, to drive economic growth in key sectors.

SCESA will consolidate links between the science knowledge base and the business community, enabling companies to use satellite data in new ways, from supporting the energy industry to planning future cities.

The University of Strathclyde was chosen to host the Centre after an open selection process attracted more than a dozen proposals.

Director of the Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory (ASCL) at Strathclyde, Professor Colin McInnes, explained: At Strathclyde we have a long-standing history of space technology; the new Centre is particularly exciting for us because it is looking at the downstream terrestrial applications of satellite data.

“The bid that we prepared covered regional issues and looked at the application of satellite data in the energy sector and in future cities.

“An example of the use of satellite data in the energy sector can be seen in work which is monitoring wind speed in the earth’s oceans. Satellite data can be used to map ocean wind speed, which in turn can be used to optimise the positioning of offshore wind farms.

“Another project in the Centre’s pipeline is one that will use the GPS signal as a time stamp. A group at Strathclyde will examine the application of this to smart energy grids, making the electricity supply more intelligent by utilising a time signal to compare the 50 hertz phase.

“They will use a GPS automatic clock timing signal from a satellite to ensure every part of the grid has the same time reference. This technology could be used not just in energy grids but in all sorts of devices.”

Such devices could be helpful to the defence sector through their use in satellite navigation, telecommunications and earth observation.

The University’s Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory has also been collaborating with micro-spacecraft engineering firm Clyde Space in developing the UK’s first commercial CubeSat, UKube-1.

UKube-1, Clyde Space’s first in-house platform development, emerged from a Knowledge

Transfer Partnership between the firm and ASCL and is seen by the UK Space Agency as a pathfinder mission for the Agency’s proposed national CubeSat programme, which aims to launch a mission every 12-24 months. Through CubeSat the UK Space Agency plans to increase the UK’s ability to market new space technologies while providing training and research opportunities for the next generation of engineers and scientists.

Prof McInnes continued: “We worked with Clyde Space on UKube-1, a micro-satellite that will be launched in a few months’ time.

“We also have ongoing projects with Clyde Space that focus on computer-modelling and simulation of micro-satellites, as well as the control and orientation of micro-satellites in space.

“Clyde Space will be a member of the SCESA Advisory Group, alongside other businesses and university partners.”

These partners will collaborate with commercial companies, generating ideas on how satellite data can be used for commercial purposes.

Prof McInnes noted: “Strathclyde is an industry-based, technology-focused university. One of the objectives for SCESA is to grow the commercial uses of satellite data and at Strathclyde we already have a strong network of connections we can tap into.”

Support for SCESA projects will come from the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre, based at Harwell, as Prof McInnes explained.

“The centre at Harwell offers the primary base of funding for SCESA. So at Strathclyde we will work with companies, build satellite-enabled projects and then look at ways we can scale up these projects using the Harwell centre.

“The University is finalising the details of SCESA with the Satellite Applications Catapult HQ at Harwell, then we will be recruiting a centre manager. Once SCESA is up and running there will be a programme of events working with companies on a one-to-one basis, and with symposium events throughout the country highlighting the use of satellite data in business.”

Strathclyde University will also work alongside the Centres of Excellence hosted by Business Durham and the University of Leicester, and bring together expertise from other Scottish institutions including the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee and organisations such as Scottish Enterprise.

Prof McInnes said: “It is very exciting that this Centre is going to be based in Scotland; the fact that we have landed one north of the border will raise the profile of the space industry here. There is a wide range of space research already going on in Scottish universities and companies – it just needs exposure.

“I hope the Centre will also encourage the next generation of Scots to study science and engineering. In terms of education, the Scottish Space School has been running at Strathclyde University for the past ten years. Every year over one hundred school kids go through the Summer School, which aims to raise the awareness of space to young people.”

The new Centre of Excellence will work side by side with Strathclyde’s existing space research centres, with activities commencing this month.

Prof McInnes concluded: I am looking forward to discovering the new and unexpected uses of satellite data.”

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