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Case studies

Proving the technology that will underpin the UK’s national spaceflight services

NPL identified challenges within AltaRange’s antenna feeds, supporting space launches across the UK and beyond.

Case study

The need

AltaRange is a Scotland-based commercial range services provider, providing antenna measurement for orbital and sub-orbital spaceflight activities. It is the first dedicated low-cost commercial range services provider in the UK, which will utilise high-value assets including ground telecoms and tracking systems. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been significant delays in its supply chains, threatening to upend clients’ launch plans.  

AltaRange is an early stage business, therefore accelerating its products’ time-to-market is critical to fulfilling initial clients’ expectations and ensuring the business’ success.  

In particular, AltaRange required validation of an S-Band antennae system which is being built and qualified at Machrihanish Airbase, with the capability to support orbital launches from UK soil from 2022. In order to accelerate the validation of the AltaRange ground station and meet these deadlines, AltaRange needed NPL’s expertise in calibration, testing and verification.  

The solution

NPL supported AltaRange by characterising the S-band feed horn antenna system. This was achieved by using NPL’s spherical near-field antenna test range, an anechoic chamber used for antenna measurement, and using a spherical near field to far field transformation technique  

NPL measured the gain, efficiency and radiation pattern of the antenna and identified specific efficiency challenges, and associated solutions, showing how to improve and optimise the design of AltaRange’s antennae systems.  

The impact

NPL’s work has led to the identification of specific design improvements within AltaRange’s antenna feeds. The company now has a plan for implementing these design improvements well within the timeline specified by its clients. Without NPL’s insights, AltaRange would have needed to significantly invest in further product development, while also facing the potential of further delays.  

The verification of its products will let AltaRange increase its sales in existing and new markets. It has also already led to an increase in investment, in the form of a £50,000 grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with further grant funding requested to develop its new patentable technology. 

If AltaRange can meet the ambitious deadlines involved in the UK’s first space launch and prove its technology with the project, it can create a new market and new jobs in Scotland. In addition to realising the Government’s goal of establishing a launch site within the UK, this would help to contribute to its ‘levelling up’ agenda.  

Scotland’s space sector is growing faster than anywhere else in the UK, and it estimated to grow to a value of £4 billion by 2030. Scotland hopes to be the first country in Europe to provide a complete solution for the manufacturing and launch of small satellites, supporting satellite and environmental data analysis and critical earth observation. AltaRange, and companies like it, can make this a reality. 

About the customer

In the early stages of this project, and with several technical challenges remaining, NPL’s expertise delivered through the Measurement for Recovery (M4R) programme has helped us greatly. In identifying the exact challenges remaining in our antenna feeds, it has both clarified and accelerated our route to market, making the projects we have scheduled for 2022 viable, including servicing the first launches in the UK.

Andy Grey - Director - AltaRange

AltaRange is a commercial range services provider, dedicated to low-cost range solutions for orbital and sub-orbital spaceflight activities. 

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