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CARBONITE-1 shortlisted for an Innovation Award

The innovations on board our newest microsatellite get a nod from the IET

We like to think that we live and breathe innovation here at SSTL, but nevertheless it is always a boost to everyone that works here when our new ideas get some kudos!  So we’re delighted that CARBONITE-1, the microsatellite we launched in July, has been shortlisted for an Innovation Award by the Institute of Engineering and Technology.  There were over 300 entrants from 28 countries and we’ve got stiff competition in our category from the likes of NATS & Lockheed Martin, QinetiQ, Selex ES and the Horace Hearne Jr Institute for Theoretical Physics at Louisiana State University, but we’re hopeful that our mission can beat the competition to the prize! 

CARBONITE-1 uses commercial-off-the-shelf industrial camera systems, novel mechanisms, rapid-build manufacturing techniques and the utilisation of spare capability on the launch rocket to deliver video from space. 

The genesis of the CARBONITE-1 mission was another of our “light-bulb” moments when we realised that there was a small amount of spare capacity on the launch we had booked for our DMC3 satellites on ISRO’s PSLV-XL launch vehicle.  We reckoned there was just enough space left in the upper stage for a microsatellite, if we were careful with both the size and weight, so we grabbed the opportunity to test out some of our most audacious new Earth Observation ideas. 

We put together a small mission team consisting of an eclectic mix of engineers – some very senior with many years of experience, working alongside some recent graduates.  The team had to work within a very tight timeframe of just 6 months for the full design, build and test campaign – in fact, they went over by 12 days, but that’s pretty good going for getting a completely new space mission off the drawing board and into the flight case, ready for shipping to the launch site!  

CARBONITE-1 flight ready in SSTL's cleanroom

For the CARBONITE-1 mission, we purchased a high performance amateur telescope and industrial camera.  The telescope was stripped down and a lightweight carbon fibre metering system was designed for rapid manufacture, alignment and assembly.  We came up with an ingenious but simple design to allow the telescope to be focussed with a simple mechanism once in orbit.  It also had to be robust enough to withstand launch vibration and transition from 1g to 0g, and cope with the thermal variations seen in orbit. 

CARBONITE-1’s platform design had to be constrained to fit within the available space on the launch vehicle.  We are used to handling size and weight conundrums for the varied space missions that we design for our customers, but this time we had an added challenge: in order to use the available space on the launcher we had to also design a unique deployment mechanism that would push our little spacecraft off to the side rather than the usual “release and push” type of deployment.  Our engineers rose to the challenge and made a bespoke and unique deployment mechanism just for CARBONITE-1, and we’re glad to say that it worked perfectly, propelling the spacecraft away from the launch vehicle at just the right angle and with the right amount of momentum to begin its new life in orbit. 

We are obviously extremely grateful to our friends at ISRO and Antrix for allowing us to use the spare capacity on the rocket, and for accommodating our deployment mechanism – without their co-operation, the CARBONITE-1 mission would never have got off the ground - pun fully intended. 
CARBONITE-1 will join other Innovation Award finalists in London on 18 November, at a prestigious awards dinner and ceremony, where Gadget Show presenter Ortis Deley will announce the winners.  Fingers crossed!  





02 October 20150 Comments1 Comment

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