Press Release

Cranfield University a big winner in UK Space Agency funding awards

By SpaceRef Editor
April 5, 2012
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Cranfield University, the wholly post graduate University in Bedfordshire, has been awarded funding for two separate pico-satellite (CubeSat) studies by The UK Space Agency as part of their National Space Technology Programme (NSTP).

CubeSats are an emerging class of miniature or pico-satellites measuring only 10cm x 10cm x 10cm, or multiples of such a size. Their small size means they can be launched into space by piggy-backing on other satellite and spacecraft launches, thereby offering a rapid, low-cost route into space. The NSTP programme promotes the development of new commercial and scientific applications by offering funding for novel concepts to be explored. Cranfield’s growing presence within the CubeSat field is highlighted by being the only institution in the current round of grant awards to win 2 grants. The grants will allow Cranfield to lead the development of CubeSat concepts within two key areas – firstly, exploitation of the unique environments of space to further the understanding of basic and applied biology used both on Earth and in space, and secondly, in addressing fundamental questions applicable to the growing threat of space debris (space junk) circling the Earth and very low flying spacecraft platforms.

Professor David Cullen, Professor of Bioanalytical Technology in the school of Health, at Cranfield University, is leading one of the new projects. The project entitled BAMMsat (Bioscience, Astrobiology, Medicine and Materials Science Experiments on CubeSat platforms) is in collaboration with partners from the Universities of Manchester, Nottingham and Edinburgh. It will explore concepts to produce a ‘toolkit’ of components to enable a series of missions all with the common feature of exploring basic and applied biological, astrobiological, medical and materials science questions. The study will include defining a mission profile and a two-experiment payload for an initial BAMMsat mission.

Professor Cullen said: “The award for the BAMMsat study recognises Cranfield’s ability to combine bioscience research with space engineering. The challenge in the current study is to implement in a few tens of cubic centimetres and in space, without direct human intervention, what is normally done in a large bioscience laboratory.”

Dr Peter Roberts, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Aerospace, and who works in the Space Research Centre at Cranfield University, will lead the second study investigating the impact of aerodynamic drag on spacecraft flying in low Earth orbits.

Dr Roberts said: “We’re very excited to get the opportunity to develop some of the theoretical ideas we’ve been working on for some time and to move towards making them a reality. The work is the first step towards obtaining a more detailed understanding of atmospheric drag on spacecraft in low Earth orbits which, in turn, could lead to a whole new classification of satellites flying much lower than is currently the case.”

All spacecraft in low Earth orbits are impacted by ‘drag’ from the very thin residual atmosphere, slowing their passage. Dr Roberts’s team, which includes academics and PhD students with experience in space engineering, will investigate the inclusion of a variable geometry aerofoil as a payload on a CubeSat. By varying the geometry of the aerofoil, and exposing different surface materials to the flow, they will be able to improve their knowledge of how the residual gas interacts with spacecraft surfaces and its effect on spacecraft drag. This knowledge can then be applied either to very low flying spacecraft for Earth observation, where drag needs to be minimised to increase the orbital lifetime of the satellite, or removal of retired spacecraft at end-of-life where drag needs to be increased to reduce its remaining time on orbit, and therefore its risk of collisions with other spacecraft.

It is anticipated this payload will fly as part of the QB50 programme when 50 CubeSats will be launched together on a single launch vehicle planned for 2014.


Notes to Editors:

The UK’s space sector contributes #7.5bn a year to the UK economy, directly employs 24,900 and supports a further 60,000 jobs across a variety of industries.

The UK Space Agency, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) provides funding for a range of programmes run in conjunction with academic, education and community partners. This programme promotes the development of new commercial and scientific applications by offering grant funding.

The NSTP funds a set of activities designed to stimulate growth in the space industry, including future technology development, investment in key projects and to help position the UK space sector to play a stronger role in programmes of the European Space Agency.

About the Space Research Centre

In addition to research and teaching, Space Centre staff provide expertise to the space insurance industry, support the development of international space engineering standards, and help to organise professional society activities in the space sector.

About Cranfield Health

Cranfield Health provide research, education and consultancy to healthcare, food and related industries, responding to international needs in a rapidly-changing world. We are committed to developing the technology and techniques which have a global effect on people’s lives and their ability to enjoy good health.

About Cranfield

Cranfield University is a wholly postgraduate research and innovation focussed institution with a worldwide reputation for excellence and expertise in aerospace, automotive, defence, energy, environment, health, management, manufacturing and security. As the UK’s most business-engaged University, and led by research which is applied to real life situations, we are world-leading in our contribution to global innovation. For more information visit:

For further information please contact:
Media Relations, Cranfield University. T: +44 (0) 1234 754999

SpaceRef staff editor.