Scotland’s First Satellite; The Project That Revolutionised The Scottish Space Sector

Scotland’s First Satellite; The Project That Revolutionised the Scottish Space Sector 

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of Scotlands first ever satellite, UKube-1, a spacecraft no bigger than a whiskey box, designed and built in Scotland. And just look how far weve come 

In a decade, Scotland has gone from never having launched a satellite to building more than anywhere else in Europe. Scotland now has the fastest-growing space sector in the UK and accounts for a fifth of the UK space workforce. And it all started with a wee spacecraft with a big mission.  

The UKube-1 Mission 

UKube-1 was successfully launched aboard a Soyuz 2-1b / Fregat-M rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan July 8th 2014. It was a technology demonstration mission, the first to be commissioned by the newly formed UK Space Agency, a fact we are immensely proud of.  

UKube-1 had a broad set of objectives aimed at attracting and training future generations of engineers, encouraging collaboration across sectors and institutions, fast tracking space technology development and engaging with students.  

This mission was also a first for Clyde Space, evolving the company from a subsystems provider to a market leading full end-to-end commercial solutions provider of Space Missions and Services. 


Ambitious Targets Achieved 

UKube-1 was a 3U CubeSat, a form factor established in the late 90s by Cal Poly and Standford Universities in the United States. Clyde Space led the development of the mission and spacecraft design which included four main payloads, making it one of the most advanced CubeSats ever built at the time. UKube-1 demonstrated Clyde Spaces mission design and manufacturing capabilities; payload kick-off to flight qualified spacecraft was achieved in less than 12 months. 

Alongside successful demonstration of bus functionality, including solar array and antenna deployment, 3-axis stabilisation, and data downlink, the mission achieved a number of key milestones, including: commissioning and data collection from each payload, successful testing of on-board camera technology, and downlink of data to multiple ground stations across the globe.   

The mission was successfully completed in November 2015.


Advanced Technology 

UKube-1 catalysed a number of new technology developments across the core avionics and payload systems, including: 

  • Clyde Space power and control systems in Glasgow, Scotland 
  • Advanced onboard computer from Steepest Ascent in Glasgow, Scotland  
  • Mission software from Bright Acsencion in Dundee, Scotland 
  • S-band Transmitter from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa 
  • TOPCAT, from the University of Bath, is the first GPS device aimed at measuring plasmaspheric space weather 
  • The CMOS Image Demonstrator by the Open University is a camera that will take images of the earth and test the effect of radiation on space hardware using a new generation of image sensor 
  • Astrium’s “Janus” Experiment to demonstrate the feasibility of using cosmic radiation to improve the security of communications satellites and to flight test lower cost electronic systems 
  • AMSAT’s FUNcube-2, an outreach payload allowing school children of primary and secondary age to interact with the spacecraft  

Since UKube-1, the technology has evolved significantly. For example, Ukube-1 had 2Mbps downlink in 2014 which is now >100Mbps for AAC Clyde Space spacecraft. The onboard avionic are now in their 4th generation and the boundaries of the applications and capabilities for these little satellites have and are continuously pushed. The upward trajectory of demand since launch of UKube-1 is still ongoing. 


Team work makes the dream work 

The UKube-1 mission brought collaboration between the UK Space Agency, industry and academia.  

Space exploration had long been the domain of massive, multi-million pound satellites, requiring complex launch vehicles and lengthy missions. UKube-1 provided hands-on, real-time training and research opportunities for a new generation of space engineers and scientists, at relatively low-cost and within a short timescale, helping to start democratising access to space. (logo) 

“UKube-1 aimed to attract and train future generations of space professionals and to fast-track space technology development across the UK. Ten years on, we have a sector that employs around 50,000 people. By proving you can fit a surprising amount of science into just a litre of space, UKube-1 helped establish the UK – and Glasgow’s – leading position as a hub for CubeSat manufacturing. It has earned its place in UK space history. The spirit of UKube-1 lives on in our work today. We want to continue to push the boundaries of satellite design and foster innovations in areas such as solar arrays, advanced battery technology and collision avoidance systems. Together with companies like AAC Clyde Space, we are bringing the benefits of space back to citizens on earth, kickstarting economic growth and creating high quality jobs.” – Dr Paul Bate, CEO UK Space Agency  

The spacecraft was developed through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Clyde Space and the University of Strathclyde. This not only led to the success of the mission but a Best Partnership Award, at Scotland’s prestigious Knowledge Transfer Partnership awards alongside new additions to our workforce. (logo) 

UKube-1 was the first in a series of historic firsts for us, and a key foundation not only of our space activity at the University of Strathclyde but of the wider Scottish sector. Our relationship with Clyde Space has also been central to that, with our continuous and uninterrupted collaboration for the last 16 years supporting the growth of the company into an international leader, and showing the true essence of Strathclyde’s ‘learning made useful’ as an international technical university.” – Professor Malcolm Macdonald, Strathclyde University 

As the lead software developers for UKube-1, Bright Ascension created the onboard software for the spacecraft, as well as the core ground segment software technology. Their software was responsible communicating between space and ground; and providing operators with command-and-control functionality. (logo) 

“Having the opportunity to create the flight and ground software for UKube-1 was a pivotal moment for Bright Ascension. We are so proud to be involved in this hugely important project for the space industry. This was a catalyst for us to create our original software offering, the FSDK, which has been a key part to more than 50 satellites launched to date and has enabled us to grow our business into what it is today, with a very exciting future ahead. Our original software remains the foundation of our HELIX suite of new products that we are currently introducing to the industry. We are delighted to celebrate this special milestone of the 10-year anniversary of UKube-1 along with our fellow project partners.” Peter Mendham, Bright Ascension Limited 

UKube-1 consisted of a combination of subsystems from Clyde Space, modifications to standard subsystems and new products. Onboard the Clyde Space satellite was an advanced onboard computer from Steepest Ascent in Glasgow, and an S-band Transmitter from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa. (logo) 

“CPUT had launched Africa’s first CubeSat in 2013, and was therefore a relatively new entity in the space community by the time of the UKube-1 launch. CPUT supplied communications subsystems in the form of an S-band transmitter and S-band antenna to be used on UKube-1. Not only was this a testament to the confidence Clyde Space had in our products, but it contributed greatly to acquiring valuable flight heritage for these systems, which in turn promoted us as a globally acknowledged provider of state-of-the-art CubeSat communications products. A fruitful commercial partnership between CPUT and Clyde Space ensued.” – Ian van Zyl, Cape Peninsula University of Technology 

It Was a Milestone Mission for Us All 

The national CubeSat programme established by the UKSA not only increased the UKs ability to market new space technologies; it also provided hands-on, real-time training and research opportunities for the next generation of space engineers and scientists, at relatively low-cost and within a short timescale. 

UKube-1 marked an incredible milestone for the UK space industry, especially for the Scottish industry. Its success attracted inward investment and businesses to establish facilities on home soil, to the conception of numerous spin-off businesss across the country. Over the last 10 years, Scotland has developed powerful capabilities in several areas of space technology. From small satellite manufacturing, rocket and launch vehicle manufacturing, vertical and horizontal launch to space operations and data analysis. The development of these capabilities has enabled access to a range of connected space services from one location. 

It wasn’t easy to deliver, but UKube-1 is a mission I’m most proud of. We had a great team and I am so proud of everyone who contributed. Many great things came from UKube-1, it was a dream come true for the business. The investors, founders and teams that worked on it saw the faith they put in our wee company repaid and we now have one of the fastest growing space sectors in the world, right here in Scotland. We went from no space companies to a multi-faceted space sector in 2024. – Craig Clark OBE, Professor of Practice, Space at Strathclyde University, Founder of Clyde Space

Our Mission Heritage  

Since UKube-1 Clyde Space, now AAC Clyde Space, have moved from strength-to-strength, and have worked on missions ranging in applications from earth observations, the Internet of things to quantum technologies. Our amazing Space Missions team has racked up over a decade of development heritage and were happy to say that a few people who worked on UKube-1 are still with us today 

Dont take it from us, heres what they had to say about working on this mission:  

“UKube-1 was only the size of a shoebox, but it was huge for us. It was our first full satellite – the first satellite to be designed and built in Scotland. It was a lot of hard work from a lot of people and a huge learning curve. Going from subsystems to a full satellite and mission there was so much more to be done, so much more that had to go right for it to work. On launch day, waiting for the first message to come back down was very stressful, but when it did it was an incredible feeling. A few weeks ago one of our engineers here told me that when he was at school he watched the TV coverage of that launch which inspired him to work in the space industry – I am proud to think that UKube-1 inspired not only our company both others around us on to greater things.” –  Andrew Strain, CTO  

Whilst working at the University of Strathclyde in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, I was part-seconded to Clyde Space to support the design of UKube-1. This was incredibly exciting opportunity, allowing me to gain practical industry experience and serve as a great example of effective knowledge transfer between academia and industry. Now being a full-time member of AAC Clyde Space team, it amazing to see how the business has grown into delivering multiple successful space missions, with UKube-1 playing a fundamental role in the companys development and growth. Derek Bennet, VP Sales Space Missions  

One of my very first jobs at Clyde Space was to get some ground support equipment boards ready for the partners that were going to participate in the UKube-1 program. At the time I had just graduated from university, and I was not aware of how big and important this mission was going to be, both for Clyde Space and for the space industry in Scotland. The launch of UKube-1 was indeed a turning point for the space industry in Scotland, and it showed the world that small companies could also build satellites. In fact, the world is now looking at CubeSats not as toys, but as a viable option to be in orbit. We were around 20 people in the company at that time and we made it! Marcos Compadre, Principle Engineer 

It was an exciting time in the company, it was a young company and it was a completely new experience for us all. I can say I was part of the team that manufactured Scotlands first satellite. Not everyone can say that! Now its a piece of cake. – Linda Macintyre, Flight Assembly Technician. 

I’ve been with the company for over 10 years and have hugely enjoyed the challenges that come with every mission. My role is to ensure that the spacecraft subsystems are functioning correctly which requires a high level of care and focus. Working in UKube-1 was the start but I am far from finished!”Ian Pratley, Test Engineer 

Some of the key engineers from this mission have also went on to establish their own companies within Scotland, such as Steve Greenland, founder of Craft Prospect. A New Space company providing AI-enabled space technologies and quantum encryption services. 

“Being the systems lead on Scotland’s first satellite was a massive opportunity and challenge, working across government, academia and industry, with over 20 organisations involved at its peak. What we lacked in budget and facilities we made up for in determination and resourcefulness, pulling in experience wherever we could such as from the AMSAT amateur radio community. It has been fantastic to see the growth in the space industry around Glasgow and Scotland since, and see many of the engineers involved go on to lead their own projects or establish new businesses. With at least 6 new companies emerging from that early team at Clyde Space brimming with new ideas and space applications, UKube-1 helped to establish a vibrant space ecosystem in Scotland, something which we should all reflect on as we move the industry to the next level.” Steve Greenland, Founder and CEO of Craft Prospect. 

This exciting mission had too many partners to include so instead we would like to say thanks to all those involved, this truly was a UK wide collaborative project 

  • UK Space Agency 
  • Scottish Enterprise 
  • Steepest Ascent 
  • EADS Astrium 
  • University of Strathclyde 
  • Open University 
  • e2V 
  • University of Bath 
  • RALSpace 
  • University of Dundee 
  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology 
  • Bright Ascension 
  • SciSys 
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnerships 
  • Technology Strategy Board