14 January 2017 – Space technology business Oxford Space Systems (OSS) has recently set two industry records with the successful launch, deployment and retraction of its novel AstroTube™ boom system. Launched on the tiny AlSat Nano satellite on 26 Sept 2016, the venture capital backed company set a record going from company product concept to on orbit demonstration in under 30 months.
Mike Lawton, founder & CEO, explained: “To our knowledge, no one else has developed a product and got it to orbit so rapidly. It’s a great validation of the skill and commitment of the OSS team – and the proprietary mathematical tools that we’ve developed to speed up product development. I’m really proud of the team – and our investors – for believing we could develop space hardware so quickly without compromising reliability.”
The OSS boom was launched from India on a 3U cubesat, a satellite roughly the size of a shoe box. The 30cm x 10cm x 10cm AlSat Nano is a collaborative educational and technology demonstration programme between the UK Space Agency and Algerian Space Agency (ASAL). The programme has been delivered by Surrey Space Centre (University of Surrey) UK, with ASAL providing the launch, commissioning and operations. In addition to the Oxford Space Systems’ boom, a number of other UK experimental payloads are on board. AlSat Nano is orbiting at a height of approximately 690km and is expected to be operational for around a year – plenty of time for OSS to carry out an extended evaluation of its new boom technology.
Lawton explained, “Our novel flexi composite boom system is the longest boom ever deployed and retracted from such a small satellite, thus setting another industry record. AlSat Nano is a great way for us to prove the boom material and our development tools behave in the manner predicted. We see AlSat as our lab bench in space; it’s helping underpin current developments for much larger boom systems for several customers.”
Booms are required for a wide range of space applications, deploying such technology as antennas, solar arrays and scientific instruments away from the body of the satellite. Oxford Space Systems hopes that its range of AstroTube booms, designed and built at the UK Government supported Harwell Space Cluster, will become a natural choice for the global space industry.
The European Space Agency’s NEOSAT programme provided essential funding and access to expertise that permitted OSS to evaluate a wide range of flexible composite boom layups targeting much larger telecommunication satellites. Although OSS involvement in the NEOSAT programme has finished, work completed under this programme helped underpin the AlSat Nano boom development.
Oxford Space Systems is backed by a small syndicate of UK based equity investment funds. Led by Longwall Ventures, investors include IQ Capital, Wren Capital, the Rainbow Seed Fund, the Stephenson Fund and a number of high net worth individuals. In alignment with its business plan, OSS is currently preparing for its third round of fund raising.
The next OSS AstroTube boom is due for launch on a commercial mission in late summer 2017 and the company is currently in negotiations with a number of overseas satellite builders for much larger variants of its boom technology.