In-Space Missions to Build UK Communications Satellite
Britain’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has awarded a £9.5 million (€11.2 million) contract to In-Space Missions Limited to build the TITANIA satellite, which will conduct vital research on next-generation communications technologies. It is scheduled for launch in 2023.
About the size of a domestic washing machine, the satellite will support the ‘Titania Operational Concept Demonstrator,’ exploring the military utility of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) direct-to-earth free-space optical communications (FSOC). As modern battlespace technology requires increasingly high bandwidth, FSOC has the potential to transform military communications through its ability to transfer large volumes of data, with a low risk of detection or interception.
The technology works by transmitting the data at high speeds via narrow laser beam between two very specific points. In this case, TITANIA will communicate with PUCK, Dstl’s new optical ground station – carrying on the tradition of the UK naming space projects and satellites after Shakespearian characters – though MON firmly believes the project to be a far less ephemeral prospect than A Midsummer Night’s Dream!
“The TITANIA space mission will accelerate the development and adoption of space-based optical communications, allowing our armed forces the ability to operate in an increasingly contested environment. [The satellite] will support the UK space sector and provide a solid foundation on which to conduct experimentation into FSOC and allow the science to be developed,” commented Dstl’s Space Programme Manager, Dr Mike O’Callaghan.
With transfer speeds measured in multiple Gigabytes per second, the increased rate of data transfer provided by FSOC will enable faster military decision-making. TITANIA will focus on demonstrating the rapid transfer of ISR data and will inform choices for future military space capabilities. It could be used for future military satellite communications, potentially providing high speed connectivity to link air, land and maritime platforms.
With the satellite to be built in the UK as part of the MoD’s £1.4 billion 10-year investment in the Defence space portfolio, the contract forms an important part of developing MoD’s space capability, and follows the recent launch of UK Space Command at RAF High Wycombe. Commander, Air Vice Marshal Paul Godfrey, commented “Following our stand-up as a Joint Command, the TITANIA satellite contract is the next exciting step for the UK in space […] It’s a brilliant example of the partnerships being developed and enhanced across the UK space enterprise, developing capabilities that not only enable military operations, but underpin countless activities essential to our way of life and the safety of our nation.”