UKube-1This project has been one of ourmost exciting projects to date.  Not only is it one of the most advanced Nanosatellite ever made, it is also the first satellite to be designed and built in Scotland, a fact that we are very proud of.  The project has been jointly funded by Clyde Space and the UK Space Agency,  and is also the first mission to be commissioed by the UK Space Agency whenit was formed in 2010.  If you're wondering where the name came from, well, it's the combination of 'UK' and 'Cube' (as in, short for 'CubeSat').  'UK' is important as it reflects the fact that the payloads flying on UKube-1 come from across the United Kingdom. 

Customer: UK Space Agency and Clyde Space (internal R&D project)




The Task:

Despite its size, UKube-1 has a huge ambition and goals.  Here's what we set-out at the start of the project:

  • UKube-1 shall demonstrate new UK space technology.
  • UKube-1 shall demonstrate the capability of useful science to be performed within a CubeSat sized spacecraft.
  • UKube-1 shall demonstrate industry and university based training in spacecraft development.
  • UKube-1 shall demonstrate education and outreach in STEM subjects.
  • UKube-1 shall demonstrate Payload Kick-Off to flight qualified spacecraft in less than 12 months. 

Ukube-1 is the most advanced 3U cubesat of its kind and will test several new technologies in space. The payloads flying on UKube-1 were selected following a competition  run by the UK Space Agency to find the most innovative and creative payloads in the UK for a CubeSat. The competition received more than 20 payload submissions, several of which are also being considered for future missions.

Payloads on UKube-1 include: UKube-1 TVT

  • TOPCAT, from the University of Bath, is the first GPS device aimed at measuring plasmaspheric space weather
  • The CMOS Image Demonstrator by the Open University is a camera that will take images of the earth and test the effect of radiation on space hardware using a new generation of image sensor
  • Astrium’s “Janus” Experiment to demonstrate the feasibility of using cosmic radiation to improve the security of communications satellites and to flight test lower cost electronic systems
  • AMSAT’s FUNcube-2, an outreach payload allowing school children of primary and secondary age to interact with the spacecraft

We also have an advanced On-Board Computer (OBC) from a company in Glasgow (Steepest Ascent) and an S-Band Transmitter from Cape Peninsula University of Technology.  The success of UKube-1 not only highlights the skills and capabilities we have at Clyde Space in priming a full spacecraft mission, it also shows that space research can be carried out quickly at a relatively low cost.

UKube-1 is essentially a technology demonstration mission and most of the payloads on UKube-1 are already being used on other CubeSat missions throughout the World.

Clyde Space Involvement

Clyde Space took on the role as “platform prime” for the build and development of UKube-1. It was therefore our responsibility to deliver the complete mission for the UK Space Agency from concept to delivery to the launch site.  The majority of the design and system integration took place at our high-tech facility in the West of Scotland Science Park.

The experience has developed our skills in many areas and resulted in further development of our own products as well as the innovation of new ones. UKube-1 consists of a combination of standard off the shelf subsystems from our CubeSat Lab, modifications to standard subsystems and new products. 

Crucially, we have proven our ability to build and integrate subsystems into a complete satellite. We have a highly skilled team at Clyde Space including engineers who have worked on tens of spacecraft over decades of small satellite experience, and as everyone in the space industry knows, experience in building a successful space mission is worth its weight in gold.

UKube-1 3U CubeSatThe lessons learned from this project have had an impact on many of the things we do with benefits that will be passed on to our customers.  Working with our own products has enabled us to further improve them – making them easier to integrate and test by our many customers. We had the unique experience of being in the position of our customers - integrating our own off-the-shelf subsystems with other hardware and software. We realised that this sometimes requires workarounds that we were previously unaware of and have updated our systems to ensure this process is easier. This improves the support we can provide our customers with, as we have greater awareness of issues that can arise when integrating off-the-shelf CubeSat systems. We have the experience to better assess risk which means we can also advise customers on timing and tasks.

All aspects of the design had to allow rapid development which resulted in an improvement in our processes as well as product development. In order to de-risk integration issues with the multiple payloads and to ensure that any schedule delays were mitigated, , Clyde Space provided an interface emulator to all payload teams at the start of the programme. This allowed the rapid parallel development of subsystems – payloads could be developed and tested without the need to interface to the spacecraft platform. Both the payload and the platform could therefore be developed simultaneously. This will be beneficial for other missions in future and the product is currently for sale in the cubesat shop.

A review of our manufacturing process allowed us to streamline the integration of satellites. UKube had a total of seven payloads compared to the usual one or two. We had to include software features that were more often associated with larger spacecraft to support the amount of payloads. The interface emulator made this possible and has resulted in standardisation for future approaches to such a mission.

In addition, the experience proved our ability to innovate when suitable solutions were not available on the market. A modified version of our Attitude Determination and Control System was developed to suit both the needs of the mission and the design requirements of other’s systems.

On-Board software was developed for UKube-1 in collaboration with Bright Ascension. The software was designed for the command and data handling needs of the next generation of highly capable cubesats. It is available to purchase for use on other spacecraft and can be easily supplemented with new components and payloads when necessary to suit various mission configurations.  

Our deployable solar panels now have more features than ever before as they were built to support the large amount of power required for a multi-payload mission.  We were able to improve and test a more integrated solar panel that would supply power and interface sensors and actuators to the ADCS. This included the use of sun detectors and sun sensors as well as embedded magnetorquers.  Additionally, the solar panels accommodated S-Band patch antenna and a GPS antenna.

Supporting the power delivery from our new deployable solar panels required an updated EPS. We extended our design to enable it to handle the increased power fro the panels and to deliver more power to the payloads and subsystems. Modularity of the system was improved by increasing the number of arrays that can be interfaced. The isolation switch has been re-configured to reduce the risk of high currents being carried in physical switches which has in turn reduced the magnetic impact of the system (e.g the resultant magnetic force from currents running through harnessing). We also increased the number of regulated power buses to accommodate the needs of all the payloads.

The S-Band transmitter used on UKube offers the highest datarate for downlink of any others on the market at the moment. It was developed in collaboration with CPUT and FSATI and is increasingly important as cubesats become more complex. This product is available to purchase on our website and is another example of how we are improving the standard of cubesat missions.

UKube-1 System Block black background

Future Possibilities

Clyde Space has developed a standardised, professional Cubesat solution that could be repeated for future use and even mass-marketed for constellations. We have pioneered a cheaper solution which opens up many possibilities for the future.

Our experience has taken us from a subsystem to a system contractor meaning we now have even more to offer our customers. We have introduced standardisation and professionalism to the development of complete Cubesat solutions.

Since the start of our involvement with the UKube-1 mission, we have received a surge in interest for our cubesat products. This is mainly due to the advanced technology we were able to demonstrate in the mission. For example, our S-band transmitter offers the highest datarate of any others on the market at the moment and our platforms/software have proven very reliable.

The experience has resulted in Clyde Space being selected to act as systems provider for a number of nanosatellites including the BISA/ESA PICASSO mission and a platform for the National University of Singapore.

Continuing from the UKube-1 mission, the UK space agency plans to commission a UKube mission every 18 months, providing the opportunity for more new technology and experiments to be tested in space. Future developments will build on lessons learned on UKube-1, including a new EPS that has since been updated to ease the process of interfacing with the solar arrays. The new EPS has several new features including improved dimensions which reduce the required volume and hence free up space for payloads. There is improved over-current protection on buses and power distribution which prevents damage following dead shorts – something the old design could not deal with.

There have also been further improvements to our solar panels and ADCS since completion of UKube-1 which can be used in future missions.

There was debate on the UK Cubesat forum as to what could be done with these missions, with some people interested in pushing the boundaries of mission or engineering capabilities. We believe that cubesat technology has already demonstrated strong capabilities and expect it to become fully commercialised. We look forward to even more innovative missions that progress the capability of CubeSat missions further in the future.

 ukube team 502