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Britain to spend $1.3M for satellite antennas in light of Brexit

By Allen Cone
Britain to spend $1.3M for satellite antennas in light of Brexit
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, deploys an Oxford Space Systems parabolic antenna at the Harwell Space Cluster. Screenshot from Oxford Space Systems/Vimeo

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Britain's Defense Ministry has awarded a $1.3 million contract for satellite antennas as an alternative to the Galileo satellite constellation project because of its impending departure from the European Union.

Oxford Space Systems, a startup, was awarded the contract for a lightweight "wrapped-rib" that can be transported to space more efficiently at a lower cost, the ministry said in a news release Monday.

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Britain has contributed $1.6 billion in funding for the satellite program, including ground infrastructure in the Falklands and the Ascension Islands.

"Satellite technology is not just a crucial tool for our armed forces but vital to our way of life, whether that be access to our mobile phones, the internet or television," Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said in May when the Royal Air Force Air Command assumed responsibility for command and control of Britain's military space operation. "It is essential we protect our interests and assets from potential adversaries who seek to cause major disruption and do us harm."

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The antenna contract is largest one placed with a first-time supplier by the Defense and Security Accelerator, Britain's ministry said in a news release.

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Britain will become the first European country with the capability of a flight-proven parabolic deployable antenna. On its website, Oxford said it is working with leading satellite builders in Europe as well as emerging players in the micro satellite and nano satellite markets in the United States, Europe and Asia.

"The funding allows us to create high value employment in the space sector and grow our team of experts at our Harwell base," Shefali Sharma, Oxford's senior commercial strategist, said of the base in England. "We can now focus on maturing the 'wrapped rib' antenna toward on-orbit demonstration."

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Using origami engineering techniques and specialist carbon-fiber composite, the antenna can unfurl to several feet around.

"I have been clear that we need to accelerate the development of new, innovative capabilities, especially those in the space domain," Williamson said Monday in a statement. "It is vital that we have homegrown affordable technologies like this pioneering deployable satellite antenna to maintain a commanding military advantage over our adversaries and competitors."

The RAF has launched and operates the Carbonite-2 demonstrator satellite.

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Williamson said participation in Galileo "remains our preferred option, however we are working on alternative options" in wake of the imminent departure later this year from the European Union.

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