UK launches national satellite operations base at ISIC

The UK’s new national satellite operations base has been officially launched as part of a £40m space business and research centre.

The Earth Observation (EO) Hub, a component of the new International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) in Harwell, Oxfordshire, will give the UK its own ground control capabilities for operating a variety of satellite missions.

ISIC will also provide security and imaging services for a variety of clients, as well as support for new businesses and a base to carry out feasibility studies of mission concepts.

The EO groundstation equipment will be used to plan and operate existing and future UK space missions with a high degree of automation, starting next year with TechDemoSat-1, a satellite test bed for UK-developed space technology.

A consortium led by Astrium built the £4.9m hub as a first step in establishing an overall sovereign EO capability, with partners including Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL).

‘This is a UK capability reflecting the fact the UK is starting to build space assets, rather than just individual space firms doing their own thing,’ SSTL spokesperson Joelle Sykes told The Engineer.

‘The government is getting behind UK space and has realised it’s an important part of the UK economy. It’s trying to pull everything together and have a plan — a UK government-led way forward.’

The new system provides the facilities needed to plan mission operations, communicate with satellites and receive images and other information from space.

For example, a user planning an imaging mission can program where and when an image should be acquired days or weeks in advance.

After missions are planned, the Spacecraft Operations Centre will track the satellites as they orbit Earth, automatically managing each satellite as it passes.

The highly automated systems orientate the antenna, download telemetry data and provide spacecraft control and analysis functions to operator workstations. This automation will help to reduce the cost of the operations.

SSTL tested the system by using the UK-DMC and UK-DMC2 disaster-monitoring satellites, validating the telemetry monitoring and spacecraft command capabilities of the system.


The hub and the establishment of the UK sovereign EO capability are part of a space sector strategy to encourage direct collaboration between government, industry and academia.

‘The UK space industry is worth an estimated £7.5bn, and to continue this success businesses need the right environment for sustainable growth and innovation,’ said science minister David Willetts.

‘ISIC provides excellent facilities for the private sector and academia to work together, encouraging them to develop new space applications and supporting the £10m National Space Technology Programme announced in the Budget.’

Dr Barbara Ghinelli, ISIC’s executive chair, said: ‘We are very excited about ISIC; we believe it is the catalyst that will bring UK space activities and capabilities together and position us to win a larger share of a growing global market.

‘Built around these facilities will be a supported innovation environment, encouraging the sharing of ideas and stimulating growth among aspiring space and non-space businesses.’

ISIC was initially supported by £12.9m from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Other industrial partners include space software company Logica and spacecraft operations specialist VEGA Space.