First Scottish-built satellite UKube-1 to launch in 2013

By Kenneth Macdonald
BBC Scotland Special Correspondent


The first satellite to be built in Scotland is due to be launched next year.

UKube-1 is being built at the West of Scotland Science Park in Maryhill, Glasgow.

The United Kingdom Universal Bus Experiment, to give it its proper name, is a pilot programme from the UK Space Agency to test new technologies in space.

A big idea, perhaps. But the trick is to think small.

The underlying CubeSat concept came originally from America: to create a satellite 10cm by 10cm by 10cm.

That gives you a volume of just one litre, but that can contain a surprising amount of science in low Earth orbit.

It's a package which costs, by space exploration standards, relatively little to build and launch.

Several Scottish firms supply the space industry.

One of them, Clyde Space, has a big presence in the CubeSat sector.

More than 600 CubeSats have been launched so far. The Glasgow firm has made components for 40% of them.

They have customers worldwide and - if your credit card can take the strain - you can order the innards of your very own satellite from their online CubeSat shop.

Clyde Space have been in business for almost eight years.

'Different possibilities'

They make components for other types of satellites too. But their chief executive, Craig Clark, says he's seen the CubeSat concept expand far beyond its initial concept.

"A typical CubeSat mission was a student-built satellite that would maybe go beep or try something out that didn't cost a lot of money," he says.

"But now it's serving a need, maybe for more communications or images from space.

"If you can think of an application, there's a way of fitting it in a CubeSat.

"It really opens the mind to lots of different possibilities."

Those possibilities include CubeSats which aren't cubes: the basic modules can be stacked to produce double or triple decker designs.

UKube-1 is a three-cube platform. Three litres of orbital science overseen by the UK Space Agency.

It will be the first complete satellite to be assembled by Clyde Space.

Project manager Gillian Smith's job is to co-ordinate the company's own contributions to the satellite: power systems, solar panels and other hardware.

"But we're also managing the payload teams," she says.

"We've got four different payloads from different universities and organisations which will be on UKube-1."

'Have the pedigree'

The payloads are coming from around the UK.

But mechanical design engineer Steven Kirk is well aware of its particular significance for Clyde Space - and for Scotland.

"It's our first full platform," he says. "So by demonstrating this we can demonstrate that we can build a full satellite.

"We'll have the pedigree."

CubeSat is expected to enter orbit next year.

If the launch is successful, perhaps people will start believing systems engineer Steve Greenland.

"People often ask me what my job is and I tell them that I'm building satellites in Maryhill," he says.

"Sometimes they don't believe it. Sometimes they laugh at me."

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