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Case study: AAC Clyde Space

The firm’s Pamela Anderson discusses why innovation and collaboration are essential in the space sector.

About your organisation

AAC Clyde Space specialises in small-satellite technologies and services that enable commercial, government and educational organisations to access high-quality, timely data from space. Our company has over 150 employees and more than 15 years of experience in subsystems, advanced sensors and data delivery and operates in Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, and the US.

What are the physics-based technologies that you are developing in your business?

  • Space data as a service: we offer a range of satellite solutions and services. Timely, high-quality satellite data or communications delivered directly to our clients enables applications such as weather forecasting and ship tracking;
  • space missions: fully assembled micro and nano satellite platforms (1-50kg) and mission services including support for launch and spacecraft operations; and
  • space products and components: a full range of off-the-shelf and tailor-made subsystems for cube and small satellites (up to 500kg). This includes power (such as batteries and solar arrays), command and data handling (including on-board computers and data-storage systems), communications, attitude and orbit-control systems, and structures.
Scientists from ACC Clyde Space look into a microscope

What was your innovation journey like?

At AAC Clyde Space, innovation is a core value. We are continuously moving forward, anticipating market needs and pioneering new ideas. In 2017, we won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the innovation category. It’s an exciting time in the industry, with fast innovation cycles and a rapidly expanding range of space applications.

An unprecedented number of companies are eager to tap into this lucrative space-based, data-driven market. Collaboration is critical to innovation, so we have worked successfully with clients, partners, and suppliers with support from shareholders, customers, economic development agencies, and space agencies to support continued growth of the industry.

As demand for data from small satellites continues to grow, the industry is already working to deliver the next generation of constellation satellites and services. For example, projects such as the Scottish Enterprise Grant, to design a highly integrated core avionics system, and xSPANCION, which will develop an innovative satellite constellation service, including the manufacture of 10 spacecrafts.

These projects will improve the ability to offer more affordable cutting-edge satellites for constellations and involve a significant expansion of AAC Clyde Space’s delivery capability.

xSPANCION is one example of a collaborative development project, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) with support from the UK Space Agency. Partners include Bright Ascension Ltd., the University of Strathclyde, D-Orbit UK, Alden Legal UK and the Satellite Applications Catapult.

“Increased provision to medium-sized enterprises to support growth to large multinationals is key.”

– Pamela Anderson, head of institutional engagement, AAC Clyde Space

What is your approach to achieving physics-based innovation?

At AAC Clyde Space innovation is informed and driven by market demand and customer needs.

We work with fast-paced innovation cycles to meet the increasing demand for the reliable, timely delivery of data from constellations of small satellites and aim to improve our ability to deliver innovative solutions at scale by:

  • increasing production capacity of satellites through more efficient manufacturing and assembly;
  • using standardised and integrated platform design to reduce costs while maintaining high performance, quality, and reliability; and
  • developing new types of sensors where we provide Space Data as a Service.

The timelines associated with the ‘new space’ industry and the fast-paced innovation cycles are often at odds with traditional approaches to space and often do not align well with innovation support timelines.

Flexible, responsive support from institutional bodies is required to enhance commercial innovation and enable companies to respond to global opportunities.

An ACC Clyde Space satellite above the earth

How have you gained the skills and knowledge to drive out innovation?

Our highly skilled team combines expertise from the aerospace, defence, and commercial industries to deliver market-leading solutions and services. We pride ourselves on cultivating an inclusive working environment where talented people want to work and where innovation can thrive.

This is essential to building our long-term competitive edge as we continue to expand our team in line with our strategy to become a world leader in commercial small satellites and services from space – both through direct hires and by acquisition.

We aim to create challenging roles and development opportunities to attract and retain talent. We are committed to improving gender equality in the space industry and strive for equality across the group.

We want to inspire the next generation of budding scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, and in particular to encourage more females to consider a future in space. Our strategy calls for continued growth of the hardware product lines and for significant expansion of the services business. To support this, we are hiring more engineers and technicians.

“Through commercialisation of physics-based innovation, we are changing the way we use and benefit from space technology.”

– Pamela Anderson, head of institutional engagement, AAC Clyde Space

What has the result of your journey been?

At AAC Clyde Space we are thrilled to bring the benefits of space to Earth, and we have made great strides in positioning ourselves as the partner of choice for commercial, government and educational organisations.

We want to ensure that space technology works to benefit the Earth and the space environment and contributes towards accelerating sustainable development – for example delivery of Mauritius’ first satellite to tackle three issues of national priority (ocean surveillance, road traffic congestion, natural disaster mitigation).

We have 29 satellites designed and launched to-date, including for earth observation, for applications such as ocean colour monitoring and wildfire detection, and communications, for services such as ship tracking and the internet of things. Testament to the level of innovation and product quality, AAC Clyde Space technology is present on 30-40% of more than 1,000 nanosatellites launched to the end of 2020. 

What tips would you give to businesses developing commercial services underpinned by physics and requiring innovation?

We’ve learned a lot over the course of our innovation journey, our top tips are:

  • invest in R&D and innovation, they are hugely valuable;
  • work collaboratively and with partners to fulfil any gaps in your own technical and business competencies; and
  • innovate to meet market demand, fully understand the benefits of the innovation, and listen carefully to customer needs.

Be ready to encounter some barriers:

  • access to skills and a diverse workforce is challenging. More must be done to attract greater diversity in the space industry in particular and in physics-based businesses in general;
  • poor access to demonstration flight or validation opportunities to demonstrate new technical capability and gain in-orbit heritage, which is so critical to commercialisation of innovation in the space sector; and
  • the support for scaling-up and commercialising innovations can be limited. It is therefore important to maximise the utility of funding and support to deliver greatest impact.
  • These case studies were commissioned by the IOP from CBI Economics