Tuesday, December 6, 2011

News: satellites, finally?

A step towards filling a strategic capability gap?

"This exciting project will provide the UK with a world-leading constellation of its own and is a clear signal of the government’s continued commitment to the UK space industry" science minister David Willetts enthusiastically announcement in a recent statement at the end of November.

The project he refers to, is new UK-designed and UK-built satellite technology, named NovaSar-S, a space-based Synthetic Aperture Radar unit that can operate day and night and survey the earth's surface through any weather condition.

It is hoped that a constellations of satellites of this type could eventually be financed and launched, enabling any place on Earth to be imaged inside 24 hours, providing the UK with a nationally-controlled and developed capability in this vital sector, which has immense relevance for both civilian and military applications.

The NovaSar-S satellite programme will receive £21m from the UK government as part of a £200m boost for science announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn Statement.

UK.gov is going to pony up £21m to start the development and launch of the satellites, which is unfortunately only enough to buy less than half of a single satellite, as building, launching and putting to work a NovaSar satellite for a customer costs 45 million, according to Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), which have developed the system.

The cost is very low for a satellite of this kind, and this is the whole point of the exercise: the 3m-by-1m spacecraft with its S-band radar, weighing just shy of 400kg, is considerably smaller than most competitors in operation today, and comes with a price tag that is also a fraction of that charged for bigger radar satellites.

The government money, complemented by SSTL and Astrium's (the runners of Skynet 4 and 5) own funding, will put the first NovaSar satellite into orbit in 2 or three years time. It will be a pathfinder, to prove the concept and demonstrate the system, which is expected to provide medium-resolution images, meaning details on the ground larger than 6m across would be discernable.

SSTL hopes to find interest and funding to make the NovaSar into a constellation. For the UK, it could be the first concrete step towards the development of a national Earth Observation capability in space, which was highlighted as a very desirable target when, last year, the UK Space Agency was founded.

HMS Ocean on the way home 

It had to be a seven weeks exercise, it turned out to be a war part of a 7 and a half months deployment away from the UK. But now the Mighty O is home-bound, and the crew is very happy to have a chance to be home for Christmas.

They have realized an hilarious video for the occasion, which is already becoming a case on Youtube.

Effects of a 225 days deployment, 176 of which spent in open sea, i guess.

HMS Astute reports from the US; Afghan logistics and withdrawal plan report  

DefenseNews has an interesting report about HMS Astute, which is in the US for a series of demanding trials, which are the last big tests before it entries into service, following return from the US in the first quarter of next year and the period of mainteinance that will follow the travel.

The success of the Tomahawk Block IV firing trials was widely reported by the press, and this new story tells us some more about the efforts of the crew to ensure that HMS Astute shakes off the sad nickname "jinxed" submarine that the grounding in Scotland and deadly shooting on-board gained her.

They also offer a very interesting interview with Commodore Clive Walker, UK commander of Joint Force Support, Afghanistan. The Commodore sheds some light over recent press reports that suggested that the Afghan drawdown would be totally or almost totally done via railway, through Russia.
The plan exists, but it is only a part of the withdrawal operation, quite less extensive in scope than suggested by newspapers.
There will be work for C17s, chartered AN124s and Point RoRo ships, you can be sure.

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