About SST-US

The Surrey story is a showcase of British ingenuity, ambition and engineering expertise

In the mid-1970s a group of highly skilled aerospace researchers were working in the electrical engineering department of the University of Surrey. At the time, space exploration was something only countries with enormous aerospace budgets, such as the U.S. and the (then) Soviet Union, could dream about.

Space exploration had been bought somewhat closer when the first man had set foot on the moon less than a decade earlier, but it was still far out of reach for most countries. The belief at the time was that space was such a different environment to Earth that anything sent into the atmosphere needed to be specially designed for the harsh conditions of space. Naturally, this made building satellites incredibly expensive and time-intensive.

Researchers at Surrey believed it could be done more quickly and much cheaper. They knew that it took up to 15 years to create and test this space-specific technology, by which time it was often obsolete. “The consumer market was leading the way in technology investment by then,” says Sir Martin Sweeting, one of the original researchers and now Chairman of Surrey. “New computers, mobile phones, and DVDs were being created all the time. Imagine anyone wanting to use a 15-year-old PC these days.”

They decided to experiment by creating a satellite using standard consumer technology, known as "commercial off-the-shelf" (COTS) components. The results were surprising. “There’s no question that space travel makes for a very bumpy ride. But we tested every component of the satellite in a specially designed chamber that replicated the space environment. The chamber exposed everything to high and low temperatures, high speeds, and movement. Everything still worked afterwards and we still test all our satellite equipment in the same way,” Sir Martin says.

That first satellite, UoSAT-1 (University of Surrey satellite) was launched in 1981 with the help of NASA, who had become very interested in the group’s work. The mission was a great success, outliving its planned three-year life by more than five years.

Most importantly, the team showed that relatively small and inexpensive satellites could be built rapidly to perform successful, sophisticated missions. To prove it, UoSAT-2 was built in just six months and launched in 1984.

In 1985, the University formed Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) as a spin-out company to transfer the results of its research into a commercial enterprise able to remain at the forefront of satellite innovation.

Despite the Challenger disaster of 1986 seriously damaging the world’s appetite for space exploration, within 10 years Surrey had launched eight satellites for various governments and businesses.

The growth in company size and the capability delivered to our customers has continued to accelerate. Today Surrey employs over 500 staff, has launched 47 spacecraft and is delivering missions that provide critical and valuable services to customers across the globe.

In 2008 the Company set up a U.S. subsidiary, Surrey Satellite Technology LLC with offices in Denver, Colorado.