AN INDUSTRY-LEADING manufacturer opened its doors for a tour of the world’s first ‘chameleon’ satellite.
Airbus united with UK astronaut Tim Peake and bosses from the European and UK space agencies as it introduced Quantum yesterday.
Commissioned by French firm Eutelsat and being part-built in Portsmouth, the device will become the first satellite to be completely reconfigurable in orbit when it is launched in 2019.
After a briefing and a Q&A, the Airbus team behind Quantum’s construction led a tour of the firm’s cleanrooms – where the kit is being built ahead of testing in June.
Invited as a guest, British ESA astronaut Tim Peake – a graduate of the University of Portsmouth – said: ‘The Quantum satellite is a world-first. The UK has a great space sector and for a long time it has been a bit of a secret.
‘It’s great to be able to showcase events and satellites like this that are being built in the UK that have such great capabilities.
‘The fact it is being part-built in Portsmouth makes me very proud too.’
While commercial satellites currently used in space are launched to serve a specific purpose and area, the Eutelsat Quantum will be able to change its own orbital position and serve any part of the world.
The technology for the satellite underwent construction following tens of millions of pounds of European Space Agency investment in 2014.
Paul Gidney, Quantum project manager at Airbus in Portsmouth, said: ‘Standard satellites we currently get our TV pictures from do one job very well, but they’re in space for 15 years.
‘If the market moves in that time there’s not a lot you can do, but Quantum will bring a new level of flexibility entirely – it will be optimisable at a millisecond’s notice.
‘It’s brilliant news for Portsmouth.
‘We can proudly say this is innovative beyond what anyone else in the world is doing at the moment, so we really are world leaders here in Portsmouth.’
Set to weigh in at 3.5 tonnes at launch, Quantum is the 24th satellite Airbus has manufactured for Eutelsat.
Yohann Leroy, the French company’s deputy CEO and CTO, said: ‘Airbus has been a manufacturer for Eutelsat over the past 35 years.
‘This would not have been the case if the quality of its work was not the level that it is.
‘For me, this site has some of the highest satellite expertise in the world.’