|Founded||Guildford, Surrey, UK (1985)|
|Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, Group Executive Chairman|
Phil Brownnett, MD from January 2020
|Products||Satellites and related services|
|Revenue||£2.6m on £92m sales for FY 2011. £30m turnover, £1.5m pre-tax profit were expected for FY 2006.|
Number of employees
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, or SSTL, is a company involved in the manufacture and operation of small satellites. A spin-off company of the University of Surrey, it is presently wholly owned by Airbus Defence and Space.
The company began out of research efforts centred upon amateur radio satellites, known by the UoSAT (University of Surrey Satellite) name or by an OSCAR (Orbital Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) designation. SSTL was founded in 1985, following successful trials on the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components on satellites, cumulating in the UoSat-1 test satellite. It funds research projects with the university's Surrey Space Centre, which does research into satellite and space topics.
In April 2008, the University of Surrey agreed to sell its majority share in the company to European multinational conglomerate EADS Astrium. In August 2008, SSTL opened a US subsidiary, which included both offices and a production site in Denver, Colorado; in 2017, the company decided to discontinue manufacturing activity in the US, winding up this subsidiary.
SSTL was awarded the Queen's Award for Technological Achievement in 1998, and the Queen's Awards for Enterprise in 2005. In 2006 SSTL won the Times Higher Education award for outstanding contribution to innovation and technology. In 2009, SSTL ranked 89 out of the 997 companies that took part in the Sunday Times Top 100 companies to work for.
In 2020, SSTL started the creation of a telecommunications spacecraft for lunar missions. It will be completed in 2024 and used for data transmission to Earth.
During the early decades of the Cold War era, access to space was effectively the privilege of a handful of superpowers; by the 1970s, only the most affluent of countries could afford to engage in space programmes due to extreme complexity and expenses involved. Despite the exorbitant costs to produce and launch, early satellites could only offer limited functionality, having no ability to be reprogrammed once in orbit. During the late 1970s, a group of researchers at the University of Surrey, headed by Martin Sweeting, were experimenting with the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components in satellite construction; if found viable, such techniques would be highly disruptive to the established satellite industry.
The team's first satellite, UoSAT-1, was assembled in a small university lab, using in a cleanroom fabricated from B&Q and integrating printed circuit boards designed by hand on a kitchen table. In 1981, UoSAT-1 was launched with NASA's aid; representing the first modern reprogrammable small satellite, it outlived its planned three-year life by more than five years. Having successfully demonstrated that relatively compact and inexpensive satellites could be rapidly built to perform sophisticated missions, the team decided to take further steps to commercialise their research.
During 1985, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) was founded in Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom as a spin-off venture from the university. Since its founding, it has steadily grown, having worked with numerous international customers to launch over 70 satellites over the course of three decades.
In 2002, SSTL moved into remote sensing services with the launch of the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) and an associated child company, DMC International Imaging. Some of these satellites also include other imaging payloads and experimental payloads: onboard hardware-based image compression (on BilSAT), a GPS reflectometry experiment and onboard Internet router (on the UK-DMC satellite). The DMC satellites are notable for communicating with their ground stations using the Internet Protocol for payload data transfer and command and control, so extending the Internet into space, and allowing experiments with the Interplanetary Internet to be carried out. Many of the technologies used in the design of the DMC satellites, including Internet Protocol use, were tested in space beforehand on SSTL's earlier UoSAT-12 satellite.
During June 2004, American private space company SpaceX arranged to acquire a 10% stake in SSTL from Surrey University; speaking on the purchase, Elon Musk stated: "SSTL is a high-quality company that is probably the world leader in small satellites. We look at this as more a case of similar corporate cultures getting together". The University of Surrey then awarded Musk an honorary doctorate. In April 2008, the University of Surrey agreed to sell its majority share in SSTL, roughly 80% of the company's capital, to European multinational conglomerate EADS Astrium. SSTL has remained an independent entity despite all shares having been purchased by Airbus, the parent company of EADS Astrium.
During 2005, SSTL completed construction of GIOVE-A1, the first test satellite for Europe's Galileo space navigation system. In 2010 and 2012, the firm was awarded contracts to supply 22 navigation payloads for Galileo, the last of which was delivered during 2016. During 2017, SSTL was awarded a contract to supply a further 12 payloads; this was viewed as a coup in light of the political backdrop surrounding Brexit.
During the 2010s, SSTL has been working on various improvements in its satellite technology, such as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) as well as smaller and lighter units. According to Luis Gomes, SSTL's head of Earth observation, micro-satellites translate to a lower cost of design, construction and launch, albeit at a cost of a more frequent failure rate, in comparison to larger and more costly units. These features has been marketed towards customers such as the DMC.
In summer 2008, Surrey formed an American subsidiary, Surrey Satellite Technology-US, in Englewood, Colorado, intent on serving US customers in the smallsat market. In June 2017, SSTL announced their intention to close their Colorado satellite manufacturing facility, opting to instead consolidate all of its manufacturing activity in the UK. Sarah Parker, SSTL's managing director, said that the rapid growth of new competing firms in the small satellite sector had changed the marketplace, necessitating reorganisation, which has included the increased use of outsourcing.
SSTL formed its U.S. subsidiary, Surrey Satellite Technology-US, in 2008, and opened a factory in the Denver suburb of Englewood, Colorado, to specifically focus on the vibrant U.S. small satellite market. At one time, the company had ambitions of growing that office to upwards of 200 people, but growing competition in small satellite manufacturing scuttled those plans.