Portsmouth space firm to share in £200m contracts

The Astrium Solar Orbiter
The Astrium Solar Orbiter
A picture taken inside the Decathlon store at Portsmouth Retail park. Credit: Decathlon UK

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Engineers in Portsmouth have been commissioned by the European Space Agency to help build instruments for a fleet of new weather satellites.

The team at Astrium, based in Anchorage Park, will lead a £134 million contract to develop instruments for the next generation satellites, known as a MicroWave Sounder (MWS).

Science Minister David Willetts, who is also the MP for Havant, announced the contract win at the UK Space Conference in Glasgow this morning.

He said: ‘This substantial contract shows that the UK’s increased investment in the European Space Agency is already paying dividends and getting us ahead in the global race and the space race.

‘It confirms our space industry’s world-class position and will see Astrium working with other leading businesses, scientists and engineers to develop cutting edge satellite technology.’

MWS will measure the temperature and water content sitting at different altitudes, in clear or cloudy skies, which is vital information for predicting the weather several days ahead.

The current instrument was designed for the Metop series of spacecraft.

The first of these satellites, Metop-A, was launched in 2006; a second platform, Metop-B, was sent up last year; and a third, Metop-C, is due to go into orbit in about 2018.

But the satellites take so long to build that the ESA is already looking for companies to bid to replace them.

This Metop-SG (Second Generation) system will probably cost close to £2.5bn (3bn euros), with nations across Europe asked to provide various instrumentation. MWS will be Britain’s major contribution.

Mr Willetts also announced a £60m investment in SABRE - a British-designed rocket engine which could revolutionise air travel and reduce the cost of reaching space.

Built by Oxford company Reaction Engines, the technology has the potential to create 21,000 high value engineering and manufacturing jobs.