Surrey Satellite Technology Limited sells stake to SpaceX
Deal unites firms with shared vision of affordable access to space
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the British world-leader in advanced small satellites, has announced the sale of a ten percent stake to California-based commercial rocket company SpaceX. The transaction enables the two companies to work together closely to achieve their shared vision of making access to space significantly cheaper and more responsive.
Rapid response microsatellites and minisatellites are creating a new international market in low cost Earth observation, navigation, communications and space science missions for both civil and military applications. SSTL, which is a spin-out company of the University of Surrey in the UK, has pioneered this new space field. It has successfully demonstrated its ability over the past two decades to produce reliable, high quality satellites at significantly lower costs by using existing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies, adapted for use in the harsher conditions of space.
SSTL has in that time built and launched 23 small satellite missions for international customers, including the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) of four satellites launched in 2003, which is currently taking daily images of tsunami-hit regions for relief agencies in Asia. The DMC is capable of re-imaging anywhere on Earth every 24 hours (compared to once every 10-20 days typical of other satellite systems), making it ideal for disaster relief missions.
Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, CEO of SSTL, said he was delighted with SpaceX’s interest in the Company. “Our two companies are effectively two sides of the same coin. If low cost access to space is to be an everyday reality, which is what both SSTL and SpaceX are working hard to achieve, then you need low cost satellites and an economical way to put them into space. This alliance creates exciting opportunities for both companies to achieve exactly that, where the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts, bringing our customers even better value for money in space.”
It’s a view supported by Elon Musk, chairman and CEO of SpaceX, who joins the SSTL board as part of the deal. SpaceX has developed the Falcon I rocket, which is due for its first flight in the Spring of 2005, and which at US$5.9 million will have the world’s lowest cost per flight to orbit (LEO) of any production rocket.
As the Falcon I moves into service, SpaceX is also developing the larger Falcon V rocket, which is designed to compete with the likes of Boeing’s Delta II and Delta IV launch vehicles, but at only 20-30% of the cost. Like SSTL, SpaceX can achieve these dramatic cost savings by the clever use of existing technology, and by keeping much of the production process in-house, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of having to rely on third party contractors to deliver on-time and to budget.
Elon Musk said: “In SSTL we see a successful, like-minded company that shares our vision for low cost space access. This deal makes perfect sense strategically, enabling our two companies to work more closely together in this rapidly developing market. I’m looking forward to working with Sir Martin Sweeting and his team at SSTL.”
Professor Patrick Dowling, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey and chairman of the SSTL board, said: “The University is delighted with this deal and is proud of SSTL’s success. It has grown from an idea in the mind of an academic more than 20 years ago to a world-leading enterprise today. SSTL is closely linked into the University’s research, and applies it in extremely innovative ways.”