RAL Space team is Ground Control for newly launched UK satellite UKube-1
09 Jul 2014




​​​​​An artist's impression of UKube-1 in orbit

​​​​​An artist's impression of UKube-1 in orbit.

(Credit: UK Space Agency)

Press Release: 9th July 2014 

Two UK satellites, TechDemoSat-1 and UKube-1 have been launched overnight in part thanks to the efforts of the team at STFC RAL Space. Both satellites were launched on 8 July 2014 at 16.58 BST and data is now being beamed back to Earth.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) have worked on a number of elements as part of this space mission covering software design, ground control responsibilities and supporting a project that will allow UK schools to analyse cosmic ray data being collected on TechDemoSat-1.

UKube-1 is the UK Space Agency‘s pilot programme to design and launch a CubeSat – a miniaturized (30x10x10 cm) satellite that will enable the UK to demonstrate new technologies in space. It has flown six payloads built by UK industry and academia.

STFC RAL Space has provided the Ground Segment (planning and commanding) for the complex payload on UKube-1, and the Ground Station at the STFC Chilbolton Observatory to communicate with the satellite. There are four experiments in the payload, all demonstrating new technology in space (from OU, Bath University, Steepest Ascent, Airbus), an innovative S-band downlink and FUNcube-2 from AMSAT.

Mission manager, Dr Helen Walker from STFC RAL Space, supported the operations rehearsals which demonstrated that the satellite and the software were ready for launch. Speaking of the mission Dr Walker said:

“STFC RAL Space is operating the Mission Operations Centre for the newly launched UKube-1 satellite. The STFC team will be able to actively control the satellite and the payload activities which will mean that the payload parameters and the timing of their operations can be updated during the mission.”

The latest news is that the Ground Control team have commanded UKube-1 during the 2 morning passes and some telemetry has been successfully received.

Meanwhile a device designed to study when asteroids change their orbit, the Compact Modular Sounder (CMS), is aboard the TechDemoSat-1 and was built by researchers at STFC RAL Space and from Oxford University. The size of a shoebox and weighing just 4.5kg, CMS is designed to do the job of a much bigger, heavier instrument at a fraction of the cost. The eventual aim of the team behind the project is to send CMS into deep space to use its infrared technology to create thermal maps of the surface of a Near Earth Asteroid.

Designed to produce an accurate temperature map of an asteroid’s surface the data from CMS will tell us about the rockiness of its surface, so where is a good place to land a robotic spacecraft, and how heating from the Sun and cooling to space can ‘push’ the asteroid around changing its orbit.

TechDemoSat-1 offers a vital way to test this technology and what we learn from this data will reduce the risk of anything going wrong in future missions. Whilst in Earth orbit the mission will also take the opportunity to map the surface temperature of the surface of the Earth, including the oceans, the temperature structure of the atmosphere, and look to compare this data with that from other Earth-observing instruments.

TechDemoSat-1 will be operated using the facility at the new Space Applications Catapult at the Harwell Campus, Oxfordshire, providing further opportunities for collaboration between teams at both the Catapult and STFC RAL Space and Oxford University scientists. The project has already offered unique training opportunities to Oxford University students, many of whom have gone on to work in the space industry.

Finally, thanks to grants from STFC a project developed by sixth form students from the UK called LUCID (Langton Ultimate Cosmic Ray Intensity Detector), will collect information about the types, intensity and direction of cosmic rays that bombard satellites stationed around 635km above Earth, data that will be crucial to ensuring that telecoms and other low-orbit satellites can withstand such radiation and function effectively.

This data will then be posted on the CERN@school (link opens in a new window) website where students will be able to access it, scrutinise it and input their findings. These findings will then be made available to space experts around the world. Over 200 UK schools are expected to take up this unique opportunity to play a key part in serious science of global importance.

Pupils at the schools taking part in the project will be able to help sift the enormous volume of data produced by LUCID and pinpoint key features, trends and patterns. The aim is to fire them with enthusiasm for science and provide them with a launch pad for future careers in physics, engineering and other disciplines.

The project is part of the CERN@school initiative. Supported by STFC and hosted at the Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury, CERN@school aims to assist the teaching of particle physics in the classroom by giving students the opportunity to analyse data from ground-based and space-based detectors.

A video of the launch can be viewed online.

A video about TechDemoSat-1​ can be viewed online.


For further information and images contact:

Jake Gilmore
STFC Media Manager
Tel: 07970 994586

If you have an urgent out of hours enquiry, please call the duty press officer on 07092 982664.

Notes for Editors

TechDemoSat-1​ (TDS-1) is an innovative technology demonstrator, built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and part-funded by the Technology Strategy Board. TDS-1 has been developed to help demonstrate the state-of-the-art technology that small satellites can provide to the commercial and scientific communities. It will carry eight payloads, sourced from the academic and SME communities to gain data for both commercial and scientific use, such as; monitoring the maritime and shipping environment, monitoring man's impact on the Earth, and providing in-situ measurements of a wide range of space radiation, including high energy cosmic ray particles.

UKube-1​ was developed and built by Clyde Space, based in Glasgow and part-funded by the UK Space Agency. It is one of the most advanced CubeSats of its kind carrying six independent, advanced payloads. The UKube-1 mission is the pilot for a collaborative, national CubeSat programme bringing together UK industry and academia to fly educational packages, test new technologies and carry out new space research quickly and efficiently.

Compact Modular Sounder (CMS): STFC RAL Space and Oxford University have designed and built the Compact Modular Sounder, one of the key payloads that will be flown on TechDemoSat. The instrument, developed by Neil Bowles at the Oxford University Planetary Experiments Group, was built, qualified and tested by Oxford while the electronics were designed and developed at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The aim of the instrument is to test a novel flexible 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.

For more information please contact: RAL Space Enquiries