Scots satellite set to enter space with groundbreaking orbital launch

It is little bigger than a shoebox, yet packs the cutting edge technology to help tackle the scourges of piracy, terrorism, and migrant smuggling.

A pioneering new cube satellite built in Scotland will be sent into space in the next few weeks as part of the first orbital launch from the UK.

At first glance, the satellite, known as Amber-1, looks fairly modest, but beneath its exterior are components capable of locating and tracking vessels around the world by geolocating and demodulating radio frequency signals.

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The applications for such unique, patented technology are considerable, particularly around issues of national security, and the team behind its construction have expressed pride at playing their part in the upcoming launch.

The satellite, which measures just 35cm by 20cm, was built by AAC Clyde Space, a satellite technology firm based in Glasgow.

It is expected it will be the first of around 20 Amber satellites that will be launched to track shipping around the world. As well as radio frequencies, the maritime domain awareness technology can also pick up mobile and wifi signals, as well as fishing net beacons and radar.

Luis Gomes, the firm’s CEO, said: “This inaugural launch illustrates the strength of the UK space industry, placing several domestically developed cutting edge small satellites into orbit.

“AAC Clyde Space is proud to have a central role in the UK's development of a sustainable, commercial small satellite launch market.”

The Glasgow-built satellite will be sent into space via the Virgin Orbit launch. Picture: Spaceport CornwallThe Glasgow-built satellite will be sent into space via the Virgin Orbit launch. Picture: Spaceport Cornwall
The Glasgow-built satellite will be sent into space via the Virgin Orbit launch. Picture: Spaceport Cornwall

Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency, said: "Glasgow is a global hub of small satellite manufacturing, pioneered by companies like AAC Clyde Space and supported by a thriving sector across the country.

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"We're building a sustainable, commercial launch market to give these companies access to space from UK soil and catalyse investment from all over the world.”

The Glasgow team shipped the satellite to Cornwall last week, with preparatory work already ahead of the launch.

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The technology behind Amber-1 has been developed by two other British firms, Satellite Applications Catapult, and Horizon Technologies.

The cube-shaped device is one of nine small individual satellites that will be part of the inaugural UK launch, dubbed ‘Start Me Up’. The satellites will ride to orbit inside a payload module at the front of the rocket.

A final date for the orbital launch has yet to be determined, and is dependent on permission from the Civil Aviation Authority, but it is expected to take place in early November at Spaceport Cornwall.

Only last week, a vast converted Virgin Atlantic passenger aircraft, known as Cosmic Girl, touched down at Newquay Airport to begin mission preparations.

Once it has reached an altitude of around 35,000 feet, the 747 will dispatch a 70 foot-long rocket, known as LauncherOne, out over the Atlantic.

As it begins to freefall, the rocket’s engine will then ignite, allowing it to begin its climb to orbit, sending IOD-3 Amber and the other satellites high above the Earth.

The rocket itself is expected to arrive in Cornwall in the coming days from its base in California.

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