Introducing The League Table of UK Satellite Manufacturers16th Jun 2023
In the latest of our series ranking the key players in the UK space industry, following the success of our UK space companies, launch companies and spaceports rankings, we’re pleased to introduce our league table for UK satellite manufacturers. This list covers those companies delivering whole satellites, assembled in the UK, for launch. We look forward with great anticipation to covering UK satellite component manufacturers in a future league table!
The UK’s launch scene may be relatively new, and while some British companies have been making satellites for decades, there are some new kids on the block, too. We rank them here to help you keep tabs on what UK satellite makers are up to at this moment in time.
|Oxford, Newport, Portsmouth, and more
|Inmarsat-6 F1 and F2, SES-12 / SES-14
|Eutelsat Quantum, SpaceDataHighway™ (SDH)
|ESA, UKSA, NATO
|AAC Clyde Space
|Cubesat, UKube-1, IOD-3 Amber
|Epic Link, Epic View
|CONSTAR MPS, Precision Multispectral Imager
|Active Debris Removal (ADR), Video-from-Orbit
|Dover Pathfinder, Menut, QB50
|RHEA Group, ESA
|UK Government, Clyde Space, ESA, UKSA
|Prometheus-2Ada and Bell Smallsats
|Airbus, UKSA, ESA
Airbus is the biggest commercial aerospace company in the UK, and as part of the Airbus Defence and Space division they manufacture satellites among many other advanced space technologies.
Within the UK, Airbus has 25 sites in total, though this also accounts for their plane and helicopter manufacture. With revenues of £4.4 billion annually at last count, the company is a huge employer and influential figure in the British economy.
Airbus claims to be the largest space company in the whole of Europe and when you consider the leading works they’ve been involved in, it is impossible to argue. Airbus facilitated the ESA Solar Orbiter mission as well as the ExoMars rover mission, plus the Biomass Earth Observation satellites helping to track climate change.
Airbus has a satellite fleet that helps to operate military communications, along with a variety of navigation and science programmes.
Airbus delivers its crucial satellite technology to the military through the Skynet 5 constellation and government partners include NATO and the UK Government. The next generation, the Skynet 6A will be a huge part of the Government-industry UK space strategy.
Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL)
SSTL is still a company operating in its own right, but it is worth mentioning that they are wholly owned by Airbus now.
Originally formed by the University of Surrey, the company has been creating satellites since 1985 with some incredible results. The UoSat-1 test satellite was the first of its research satellites, helping to turn SSTL into a huge success.
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, or SSTL, is a company involved in the manufacture and operation of small satellites. A spin-off company of the University of Surrey, it is presently wholly owned by Airbus Defence and Space.
Among the company’s many satellites are:
RemoveDEBRIS: Active Debris Removal (ADR) technology demo deploying a small satellite, capturing it and then de-orbiting it to demonstrate the debris removal capabilities.
CARBONITE-2, an EO mission which was operated by the company and demonstrated the capacity to provide video from orbit back in 2018.
NovaSAR-1: an S-Band SAR Payload supplied by Airbus Defence & Space. The satellite had a Synthetic Aperture Radar to monitor shipping activities and alert people to any suspicious or unusual patterns.
SSTL had expanded to Denver in Colorado but decided in 2017 that they would take all manufacturing and design back to the UK. Current projects include the building of a Lunar Pathfinder which is intended to launch in 2025 and transmit data from the moon to earth.
AAC Clyde Space
AAC Clyde Space is the name of the company formed in 2019 when ÅAC Microtec, based in Uppsala, Sweden, acquired Clyde Space Ltd. We can’t say we always agree on the beauty of the Swedish model, but we’d say it’s shaped up well for Clyde Space.
Clyde Space Ltd. was originally founded in 2005 and has grown to become a pioneer in the world of nanosatellites and small satellites. Their satellites have applications including weather and earth observation and even precision farming.
Over their history, the company has designed 29 different types of satellites, and is generally considered to have one of the biggest repertoires of hardware in space compared to other small satellite manufacturers.
AAC Clyde Space has a number of partners, as they support 40% of CubeSat missions that take place. In 2014, the UKube-1 was also launched, Scotland’s first ever satellite.
The company now has the manufacturing capacity to make an average of six different spacecraft every single month.
As one of the biggest British satellite manufacturers, the company has now become a global entity with a facility based in Sweden. The Glasgow facility is described as the “nucleus for satellite manufacture” though some manufacturing also takes place in Sweden.
Founded in 2015, Open Cosmos manufactures small LEO satellites to provide crucial data to many different organisations all over the world.
Their current fleet involves satellites to track and monitor the thermosphere, digital imaging satellites, and satellites to observe climate change impacts.
Open Cosmos are also partnered with RHEA Group who have recently designed the Dover Pathfinder, the company’s first satellite in spite of around 30 years of providing security services. The satellite is also made in conjunction with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Navigation Program (NAVISP).
The satellite had been made in Oxfordshire, but following the failure of the Virgin Orbit launch it did not make it to space. An Open Cosmos spokesperson said: “While disappointed at this result, we remain proud of the work the team and everyone in the UK space sector have done. Space is not easy and the UK has taken a major step forward. Let’s go again.”
Open Cosmos are also continually developing OpenConstellation which they describe as “a mutualised satellite infrastructure, created to enable organisations to share the data generated by satellites for improved access to information on our planet.” The idea is to encourage space companies to collaborate to reduce costs and provide more accurate data for all.
Space Forge is a manufacturing company based in Cardiff, with an interesting mission and goal of developing in-orbit fabrication capabilities, and to produce semiconductors and alloys in orbital conditions.
There are certain manufacturing purposes that are facilitated by the environment of space that would not be possible on earth. Alternatively, there are some processes simply improved by carrying them out in orbit. Gravity can prevent perfect alloying in metals of varying densities, for instance.
The company’s technologies have already garnered a lot of attention and they have secured a contract with ESA to provide commercial space transportation.
SpaceForge has also developed ForgeStar technology, which is a craft that is able to return from orbit for refurbishment.
ForgeStar-0, developed by SpaceForge was due to be the first ever Welsh-built satellite in space, but the failed VIrgin Orbit launch prevented the satellite from reaching its orbit. ForgeStar-1 will be four times bigger, with an aim of generating materials which exceed the overall value of the launch. The company has set out ambitions to reach double figures in annual launches.
In-Space Missions is another British satellite manufacturer who can provide a full-scale service from design and manufacture to integration. Their range of satellites includes small 1U Cubesats as well as Ada and Bell smallsats.
The company is based in Alton, Hampshire, and is partnered with organisations including ESA and UKSA.
In-Space Missions were another victim of the failed Virgin Orbit launch. The Prometheus-2 was one of the satellites due to be delivered into orbit, one of two satellites aiming to support the Ministry of Defense with science and technology activities. The satellites were tiny in size and the purposes included monitoring radio signals, space-based intelligence, and surveillance over a course of three years. The cubesats also featured in-orbit data processing that incorporated AI.
It is not currently known whether In-Space missions is still working on the Prometheus project, but the company is known to be working on eight designs including the Multi-Sensor Satellite Cluster for BAE Systems. The satellites on board will collect visual, radar and radio frequency (RF) data used for intelligence applications.
OneWeb is a company providing satellite internet services. Headquartered in the UK, the company aims for global reach with their satellites. The company has 618 satellites in orbit at this time.
While OneWeb is headquartered in London, and is even 17.6% owned by the British government, the satellites are made in a manufacturing facility in Florida, USA.
Emerging technologies from UK companies have been on the rise, and this is a fast-moving industry. Our list aims to showcase the work being done by satellite manufacturers in the UK, evaluating key metrics such as the satellites and technologies they are working on.
What’s Behind Our Rankings?
This is definitely work in progress, and though we deem these the current leaders, there are some ambitious young companies throughout the UK space industry who may disrupt our rankings as time goes on. As the case of SSTL shows, the likelihood of the giants in the industry eating the young also remains high.
*Revenue data sources:
airbus.com, craft.co, zoominfo.com