Technology

Could Washing Machine-Sized Satellite Mean Stealthier Military Communications?

A £9.5m contract will see 'Titania' built in the UK and it is hoped it could 'transform' military communications.

The UK is hoping one small satellite for the military could be a giant leap for defence data.

It's hoped 'Titania', a satellite roughly the size of a washing machine, can undertake vital research on the future of military communications.

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has awarded a £9.5m contract to see Hampshire-based In-Space Missions Ltd build the satellite, expecting a launch in 2023.

It is hoped it will enter Low Earth Orbit, where it will transmit data quickly and through a narrow laser beam between two points –  making it difficult to detect.

The mission will test the military's use of direct-to-earth free-space optical communications (FSOC), which can allow huge amounts of information to travel with a low risk of interception from outside sources.

To explore the science, 'Titania' will send Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance data to 'Puck' - Dstl's new Optical Ground Station and another UK space asset named after Shakespearian characters.

The 'Titania' satellite could inform future decisions on military communications in space (Picture: MOD).

FSOC allows multiple gigabytes to be transferred each second which, according to the Ministry of Defence (MOD), will enable faster military decision-making.

The MOD said the FSOC technology has the 'potential to transform military communications'.

Dstl's space programme manager, Dr Mike O’Callaghan, said: "The Titania space mission will accelerate the development and adoption of space-based optical communications, allowing our Armed Forces the ability to operate in an increasingly contested environment.

"The Titania satellite will support the UK space sector and provide a solid foundation on which to conduct experimentation into FSOC and allow the science to be developed.

"We are delighted to be working with In-Space Missions on this highly innovative project," he added.

Watch: New battlefields – The reality of fighting in space.

The outcome of the research will inform future decisions on military space communications, which could see high-speed connectivity link air, land and maritime platforms.

Commander of UK Space Command, Air Vice Marshal Paul Godfrey, said the 'Titania' demonstrator is an "exciting step" for UK space capabilities following the recent launch of UK Space Command at RAF High Wycombe.

The construction of the satellite is part of Britain's £1.4bn investment across the next decade, into next-generation technology in the Defence Space Portfolio.

Cover image: 'Titania' satellite (Picture: MOD).