Today, fans around the world are celebrating May the 4th – aka Star Wars Day. Traditionally, it’s a time of film screenings and even costume competitions – but while the idea of space travel may seem like lightyears ahead, the UK space industry is actually taking steps towards making it a reality. So, in celebration of Star Wars Day, here are four fun UK Space success stories:
ExoMars rover: The first ExoMars rover, a space exploration vehicle that is designed to ‘test the waters’ on unexplored planets before sending humans, will land on the surface of Mars in 2020. Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage is leading the rover’s construction, meaning that the first rover of the ExoMars mission will have been developed, built and tested in the UK. Last week, Major Tim Peake had the honour of driving the rover across the Mars Yard, a simulated Mars environment mimicking conditions on the planet, from the International Space Station while orbiting 248 miles above earth.
LISA Pathfinder: The LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) Pathfinder is a UK-led spacecraft that is testing new technologies needed to measure gravitational waves in space. The six-month European Space Agency (ESA) mission began in March, with Airbus Defence and Space having built the aircraft and SciSys UK developing the satellite’s on-board software. Oxfordshire-based STFC RAL Space was involved in several technology development projects in the missions early stages, making the LISA Pathfinder a very British space project.
Alphasat: Alphasat – the size of a double decker bus and weighing over six tonnes – is Europe’s largest and most sophisticated telecommunications satellite. Owned and operated by London-based Inmarsat, it was launched into geostationary orbit in July 2013 to provide mobile communications for broadcasters, shipping operators, the military and emergency. It is already working in partnership with leading organisations to deliver advanced educational and medical services into remote districts in sub-Saharan Africa.
UKube-1: Glasgow-based Clyde Space, which produces components for CubeSats, miniature satellites, was commissioned by the UK Space Agency to build UKube-1, the UK’s first CubeSat. UKube-1, which was launched in July 2014 into low Earth orbit, is one of the most advanced ever made and consists of three CubeSats joined together. Clyde Space has orders for more than 30 small satellites over the next 12-18 months and its goal is to turn over £20 million in three years.