UK’s first CubeSat mission starts to take shape

22 March 2011

The UK Space Agency has today (17th March 2011) revealed the instruments and experiments that will be launched into orbit onboard the UKube-1 CubeSat in early 2012.

UKube-1The winning payloads from the UK Space Agency's payload competition include the first GPS device aimed at measuring plasmaspheric space weather; a camera that will take images of the Earth and test the effect of radiation on space hardware, using a new generation of imaging sensor; an experiment to demonstrate the feasibility of using cosmic radiation to improve the security of communications satellites and to flight test lower cost electronic systems; and a payload made up of 5 experiments that UK students and the public can interact with.

UKube-1 - a nanosatellite that will allow the UK to test new technologies and carry out new space research quickly and efficiently - is an exciting and novel collaboration between the UK Space Agency, industry and academia, and is envisaged as the pilot for a full national CubeSat programme.

As well as providing a fantastic opportunity for innovative UK companies and UK academics to collaborate on a national space project, UKube-1 is also useful for training the next generation of space engineers and will include a tiny radio transmitter for science education, and a materials science experiment from which school students can receive data. The system, funded by volunteer members and friends of AMSAT-UK, is called FUNcube and will be integrated with UKube-1 as part of the programme.

Dr David Williams, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said, "UKube-1 is really starting to take shape. Our payload competition has enabled us to include a wide variety of innovative instruments and experiments that will drive the development of UK space technologies and help to enthuse UK students about science. CubeSat missions offer opportunities for a wide range of people to get involved in space activity, removing barriers and encouraging innovation."

Astrium 'Janus' experiment

Astrium's Janus payload is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of using space-based cosmic radiation to produce true random number generation in satellites for the first time. Random number generation is an essential component of secure communication systems and the Janus payload could pave the way for highly-secure telecommunication satellites. The Janus mission will also act as a technology demonstrator to determine the effects of cosmic radiation on a high performance integrated circuit in the payload - a Xilinx Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). The FPGA has the potential to be re-programmed in orbit and therefore could lead to further advancements in the payload's overall functionality.

CMOS Imager Demonstrator

The Open University's CMOS Imager Demonstrator is based on new sensor technology which is being developed and evaluated for space use. It is designed to perform a variety of imaging tasks and will take images of the Earth and test the effect of radiation on instruments in space.


UKSEDS myPocketQub is a pocket spacecraft that will carry a stack of different experiments, allowing students and hobbyists to take part in a space mission.

The three core goals of myPocketQub are to allow up to 365 people to try their experiments in space on a pocket spacecraft for a day; help people to develop payloads for pocket spacecraft at home, school or university; and demonstrate an open source pocket spacecraft design.


TOPCAT, a project from the University of Bath, will be the first GPS device aimed at measuring space weather conditions in the plasmasphere (the areas of space just beyond the earth's atmosphere)

The results from the measurements taken by TOPCAT will allow these conditions to be monitored and reacted to, reducing negative implications for GPS and improving systems such as satellite navigation and telecommunications. TOPCAT is funded by the University of Bath and the Bath Alumni Fund.

Dr Ronan Wall, UKube-1 programme manager and systems engineer at Astrium, said, "With the securing of this major milestone, we can now concentrate on getting these payloads and the spacecraft itself mission-ready. Thanks to the efforts put in by the payload, platform and ground segment teams, UKube-1 will allow scientific discoveries, demonstrate technological innovation and throw open the doors of space experiments to the UK school and university population - all from a cost-effective, 4.5kg satellite".

The funding partners for UKube-1 are the UK Space Agency, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Technology Strategy Board. The spacecraft is being developed through an existing Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with innovative Scottish space company Clyde Space and the University of Strathclyde. Engineering and programme management support is provided by the UK's largest space company, EADS Astrium Ltd. The platform development is supported through internal funding from ClydeSpace and STFC sponsorship of the KTP.

As well as the platform and payload elements of the mission, UKube-1 is being generously supported by three Ground Stations. Led by the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory's Ground Segment, these crucial elements will provide the link to the orbiting spacecraft, as well as full planning of the operations. The supporting ground stations are provided by Dundee and Strathclyde Universities.

Companies providing free support to UKube-1 include Isotron, Xilinx, Invotec and DS SolidWorks Corp.

UK Space Agency contact

Julia Short, Press Officer, UK Space Agency, Tel: +44 (0)1793 418069, Mobile: +44 (0)7770 276721

Other Info


  • The UKube programme will be run out of the Harwell Campus as part of the activities of the International Space Innovation Centre
  • The final UKube-1 satellite will be 'piggybacked' on the launch of a larger satellite in 2012


  • CubeSats are so small that they are about the size of a shoebox, weigh some four kilograms and cost only a few thousand pounds to build.
  • The UK is already a leader in small satellites but CubeSats take the concept even further.
  • Some 30 CubeSats are currently in orbit
  • CubeSats are fast and cheap ways of demonstrating technology, investigating science and performing education outreach
  • The rapidly increasing capabilities of CubeSat related technologies, commercial availability of these and the low relative costs opens up a large number of possibilities for carrying out detailed space science studies.

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space. It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions.

Second only to the USA in space science, the UK's thriving space sector contributes £7.5bn a year to the UK economy, directly employs 24,900 and supports a further 60,000 jobs across a variety of industries.

The UK Space Agency:

  • Co-ordinates UK civil space activity
  • Encourages academic research
  • Supports the UK space industry
  • Raises the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad
  • Increases understanding of space science and its practical benefits
  • Inspires our next generation of UK scientists and engineers
  • Licences the launch and operation of UK spacecraft
  • Promotes co-operation and participation in the European Space programme

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