In the mid-1970s space was considered to be the preserve of a few super-powers and restricted to the most affluent of nations since it was extremely complex and expensive to access. The satellites launched at that time used components specially manufactured and tested to perform reliably in the harsh space environment but with only limited functions that could not be reprogrammed once in orbit.
In the late 1970s, a group of researchers working at the University of Surrey, led by a young Martin Sweeting, decided to experiment by creating a satellite using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. The idea was bold and audacious and the results were surprising.
That first satellite, UoSat-1, was built in a small university lab in a cleanroom fabricated from B&Q - and with printed circuit boards designed by hand on a kitchen table. Launched in 1981 with the help of NASA UoSAT-1 was the first modern re-programmable small satellite and was a great success, outliving its planned three year life by more than five years. Most importantly, the team showed that relatively small and inexpensive "micro" satellites could be built rapidly to perform successful and sophisticated missions.
In 1985 Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd was formed as a spin-out company to transfer the results of research into a commercial enterprise. The Company grew steadily and has worked with a wide range of international customers and partners, building and launching ~70 sateliltes for 22 countries over the following three decades.
In 2009 Airbus bought the majority shareholding from the University of Surrey, allowing SSTL to fulfil its growth potential. SSTL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Airbus.
SSTL's innovative approach to the design, build, test and operation of spacecraft pioneered and led the small satellite industry that today has become known as "NewSpace".