EADS Astrium's acquisition of UK satellite maker SSTL was finalised yesterday. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd has grown from small beginnings to become the world's leading manufacturer of small satellites, producing low-cost platforms for earth observation missions.
The deal, approved by the European Commission, will allow SSTL to maintain its own management and brand identity. The deal was motivated by SSTL's need for a larger kitty to finance its growth. The company has so far been mainly funded by the University of Surrey.
With this agreement, Astrium has picked up the bulk of the University of Surrey's 85 per cent stake in SSTL. The Guildford company will be permitted - even encouraged - to compete for business with its new parent. This is already happening in the tender process for Europe's forthcoming satellite-navigation system, Galileo.
SSTL built its reputation on being able to provide small satellites at extremely competitive prices, and it has worked closely with developing nations to give them access to space. Its Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC), a network of five satellites operated for the Chinese, Algerian, Turkish, Nigerian and British governments, provides rapid remote-sensing data. It is also heavily involved in a project to send a British orbiter to the Moon. Its planned Moonlite mission would fire projectiles into the lunar surface to learn more about the moon's interior.
EADS Astrium employs some 12,000 staff across Europe, with substantial British centres in Stevenage and Portsmouth. The space division of EADS leads the production of Europe's Ariane rocket and is a dominant force in spacecraft manufacturing, producing many of the large geostationary platforms that relay commercial TV, telephone and internet services.
The company was also prime contractor on Columbus, the European science lab attached last year to the International Space Station (ISS), and the "Jules Verne" space freighter that re-supplies the ISS.