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A miniaturised instrument to monitor the weather will be the first payload to fly on one of the UK’s new publicly funded demonstration satellites.
US-based Orbital Micro Systems will launch their microwave radiometer aboard the 30cm-long spacecraft next year to retrieve temperature, humidity and precipitation measurements.
If successful, OMS plans a 40-strong constellation of similar satellites.
OMS is moving into Britain because of the support offered to new space firms.
Originating in Colorado, the company is opening a data-processing centre in Harwell, Oxfordshire, and a hardware facility in Glasgow, Scotland.
“The UK’s In-Orbit Demonstration programme is unique; it doesn’t exist anywhere else,” says OMS CEO William Hosack.
“The speed with which we were able to integrate into the UK space ecosystem and start the conversation is blazingly fast.
“And for small companies in space that’s really important – we don’t have the luxury of waiting around 10 years to launch our satellite; we need to do it inside 18 months,” he told BBC News.
OMS intends to sell data and analysis to those concerns that want faster, more frequent weather updates.
Example customers would include airlines and shipping operators that need to know what the weather is doing immediately ahead, and to the side, of aircraft and ocean-going vessels in order to optimise their routing and traffic management.
The Satellite Applications Catapult, which was set up by the government to foster new space enterprises, is providing four, likely five, satellites on which companies can prove their technologies actually work in orbit.
This should then make it much easier for those firms to raise the additional capital required to expand their businesses.
OMS is taking the first opportunity. Its 10cm by 10cm by 15cm radiometer will slot inside a spacecraft “bus” provided