Oxford Space Systems is currently developing three types of product: deployable antennas, AstroTube™ boom systems made of a novel flexible carbon fibre composite and deployable panel systems. The company’s approach enables it to deliver innovative, scalable structures that significantly reduce both build and launch costs for space systems such as satellites.
Getting a structure into orbit comes at a high cost: up to £50,000 per kilogram in a volume- constrained rocket. To permit stowage for launch and then unlock the utility of a satellite once in space, deployable structures such as antennas, solar panels and boom systems are required. These often make up much of a satellite’s mass and thus any improvements to stowage efficiency and weight reduction help improve the viability and economics of a mission. OSS’ latest antenna technology is opening up a global market by increasing the quality and competitiveness of antenna-enabled services such as GPS, Earth observation and telecommunication.
The company uses novel design approaches such as origami engineering, together with unique, proprietary materials such as its AstroTube™ flexible composite. Following the principles of the 17th century Japanese art form, origami engineering has been used to design materials and structures that can bend, stretch and retract, overcoming traditional design constraints and resulting in remarkable performance characteristics. The company’s ‘shape memory’ flexible antenna surface dramatically simplifies the design and increases its reliability and stowage efficiency.
With over 1,700 satellites currently in orbit, the costs savings these innovations provide could be a game-changer for the space industry. Alongside the European Space Agency, Oxford Space Systems has contracts in place with Airbus Defence & Space, Thales Alenia Space, LuxSpace and other customers in Asia and the US. Their technology is disrupting the market and helping to make space innovation more accessible to entrepreneurs.
Oxford Space Systems is already setting world records. In 2015, the company was selected for the UK Space Agency’s AlSat Nano mission, achieving a world-first with the longest ever retractable CubeSat boom in orbit at 1.5 metres. OSS also claim to have achieved the space industry’s fastest full cycle hardware development - from material design to in-orbit demonstration in under 30 months. This speed has enabled industrial and academic mission partners to stay ahead of the curve in the increasingly competitive global nanosatellite market.
Enabling a new generation of cheaper, smarter satellites could pave the way to the industry’s vision of large constellations – networks of satellites working in tandem, providing more coordinated ground coverage. The high-quality data these constellations can provide will improve applications, enabling better internet connections, pollution monitoring, aircraft tracking and weather forecasting.
In less than 60 years of rocket launches, there has been a significant increase in space debris – ranging from flecks of paint to large sections of disused satellites and rockets. This presents a significant risk to satellites and even the future of space tourism. To mitigate this, Oxford Space Systems is supplying technology to a demonstration mission, RemoveDEBRIS. The company’s AstroTube™ boom, is part of a UK satellite to demonstrate debris reduction technologies, awaiting deployment from the International Space Station.
OSS staff have collectively achieved over 50 successful flight missions between them and its team of 28 is now set to expand significantly following the successful close of the first phase of a venture capital funding round. As well as expanding the team, the investment permits the company to move to its own custom facility at the Harwell Space Cluster. This will give it the largest clean room on campus, enabling it to assemble flight hardware in much larger volumes to address constellation opportunities for Europe, the US and beyond. In 2016 the company also took part in the Royal Academy of Engineering's Enterprise Hub SME Leaders Programme, which supports promising leaders of high-growth engineering SMEs.
MacRobert Award Judge Dr Frances Saunders CB FREng said:
“The UK Space Sector is a genuine success story: it is currently worth £13.7 billion to the economy and provides around 40,000 jobs. There are ambitious targets to increase our share of the global market from the current 6.5% to 10% by 2030 and therefore an increasing role for companies to be a part of this growth with technologies that will enable faster and more efficient innovation in the industry.
“Oxford Space Systems’ impressive claim to a world record of the fastest time from concept to orbit for a new material, as well as the cost savings they provide in relation to space deployment, is a great example of the efficiencies that will ensure continued growth in the space sector."
The nominated team members are:
Mike Lawton, Founder and CEO
Dr Juan Reveles, Co-founder & CTO
Dr Alex Brinkmeyer, Space Materials Engineer
Mat Rowe, Chief Operating Officer
Dr Tao Huang, Head of RF Engineering