We’re coming to the end of the Twinkle payload study, which started in March this year. We’ve had the detailed design review of the specifications and design for our telescope on the 26th of November, and plans will be finalised by the end of the year. It was possible to complete the study in a relatively short time in part due to working together with Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). The structure of the Twinkle satellite will be based on the tried and tested SSTL-300 platform, which has allowed our payload consortium to focus on how to build the telescope, rather than the satellite body itself. This is an approach we’ve taken with most of our mission hardware, going with ‘off-the-shelf’ components rather than spending time and money developing entirely new technology.
The SSTL-300 satellite has a lifetime of around seven years, and is typically used for Earth observation missions; looking down at the Earth from orbit. Data from these missions have many useful applications, such as building maps of cities, carrying out surveillance, or agricultural monitoring. For Twinkle, instead of pointing the satellite at the ground, we want it to look away from the world, towards faraway exoplanets.
As the SSTL-300 has been, and still is being used by a number of other missions, SSTL already have existing infrastructure for its control, but the satellite does need some adaptation for our mission. For instance, the satellite needs to accommodate our slightly wider than usual payload, and as we are measuring light from far off stars we need better light shielding and stability than is usual.
SSTL has been involved with a huge number of successful missions since it was founded as a spin-off company from the University of Surrey in 1985. Over the past 15 years, the company has worked on series of disaster monitoring satellites (DMC 1, 2, and 3), and it is also currently working with the European Space Agency to develop satellites for the Galileo satellite navigation system.
Working with SSTL allows us to keep our mission’s costs down while making sure that we have the best possible hardware. SSTL has worked on satellites for a number of different countries, and it’s a real bonus that we are able to work with an industry leader, while still keeping our mission based within the United Kingdom.