UK Funds Amber Phoenix Satellite Replacement

29th Oct 2023
UK Funds Amber Phoenix Satellite Replacement

The UK is financing approximately half the cost of replacing the government-sponsored CubeSat that Horizon Technologies lost as a result of Virgin Orbit’s Cornwall launch attempt in January. 

On 19th October, Horizon, a British maritime surveillance venture, announced in a press release that the UK Space Agency granted the company £1.2 million to aid in the launch of a substitute spy satellite in mid-2024. The replacement will be used to scan for radio frequencies from vessels that may be trying to escape detection. 

Horizon aims to further finance the Amber Phoenix satellite program’s launch, manufacturing, ground segment, and other costs with the revenue generated by equipping drones and spy planes to trace satellite phones and radars. The Amber Phoenix mission requires a total funding of £2.8 million, with Horizon providing the remaining amount.

AAC Clyde Space to Manufacture Amber Phoenix

The UK Space Agency also separately announced that Swedish New Space company AAC Clyde Space (ACS) is manufacturing Amber Phoenix, though at present, no launch provider has been secured. Although ACS is headquartered in Sweden, the publicly listed company manufactures small satellites in Scotland.

According to Horizon CEO John Becker, Amber Phoenix would have undisclosed enhancements compared to its predecessor, the Amber IOD-3 (In-Orbit Demonstration), which ACS also provided. The Amber IOD-3 was a 6U CubeSat and formed part of a program overseen by Satellite Applications Catapult, a non-profit organization supported by the British government. Horizon acted as the prime contractor for the initiative. Becker revealed that Horizon spent over £4 million on the necessary technology for their first satellite, with £600,000 acquired from the UK government’s innovation agency. 

The Amber IOD-3, which was uninsured, was among the nine small satellites that went missing during Virgin Orbit’s maiden launch attempt from British soil. Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One failed to reach the appropriate orbit, and three months later, the company went bankrupt.

Amber IOD’s Delays

Horizon’s initial plans involved launching Amber IOD-3 via a SpaceX Cargo Dragon mission from the ISS (International Space Station) in 2021. However, pandemic-related production delays caused the satellite to miss its original launch opportunity. IOD-3 was then relocated to Virgin Orbit to support its first UK launch.

According to Becker, after its relocation, IOD-3 was initially scheduled to launch with Virgin Orbit in July 2022. The launch had to be postponed as they had requested permission to fly from the UK. Becker revealed that Horizon’s expansion into space would have been halted if it were not for the UK Space Agency grant.

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