Surrey Satellite Technology (Surrey) has been ingrained in university settings since its inception. Founded as a research institute through the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK, Surrey is now a key commercial provider of small satellites in both the US and international markets.
Today, Surrey has expanded from its headquarters in Guildford, UK to the United States, where it has established offices in Englewood, Colorado. Becky Yoder, Surrey’s U.S. CFO, explains the company’s evolution:
“Surrey Satellite Technology basically started out like a LASP, [the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics affiliated with CU]. Like at LASP, the researchers at Surrey embraced new ideas and tried to do things differently. The founder and current Chairman of the Surrey group Professor Sir Martin Sweeting’s main mission was to ‘make space accessible.’ He is credited with helping start 7 or 8 space agencies in different countries [including those in Nigeria and Algeria]. We have since grown to over 500 employees with locations in the US, Guildford, and soon, Japan.”
Joe Breno, systems engineer, credits the growth and commercial success of the company to its university roots:
“A university is structured to promote exploration of new and better ideas. Martin and his crew [at the University of Surrey] were successful in bringing new ideas to fruition. We were able to identify efficiencies to be gained and ways of doing things that were quicker and cheaper. Once we showed that our ideas were successful, we could share them with the world.”
With its university heritage, Surrey was greatly interested in cultivating relationships with local academic institutions, chiefly CU-Boulder. Yoder notes:
“When I started at Surrey, we still collaborated with the University of Surrey. We wanted that same energy here in the US. We had CU in our own backyard and it was just a natural fit.”For the past three years, Surrey has sponsored a mix of Graduate and Senior Projects through the AES Department. Breno was the customer and mentor for the ETHOS Senior Design team this past year. He explains his impressions:
Though the students ran into some problems with the project’s short timeframe, I was impressed with what they were able to accomplish. I noticed that a lot of their professors have been spread all over the state in industry. Students at CU have access to people with not only breadth of experience, but depth of experience. That access prepares them to jump into a company and situation like ours and be productive.”
Beyond Senior Projects, Surrey has collaborated with the Boulder aerospace community through contracting entities such as LASP. Breno explains:
“We are in a great position here. Colorado is a well-defined aerospace hotbed for smaller and bigger companies. We have a lot to choose from in terms of design solutions for given customers.”
Out of its 22 US-based employees, Surrey employs three full-time workers and one intern from CU. Surrey has found that the CU AES education ideally prepares individuals to thrive in their company dynamic, as Breno notes:
“We want our engineers to be involved from design through launch. Our engineers tend to really like that because they get to see the whole system come together. This [focus on systems] ties back to our relationship with CU: students that come from the AES background have the understanding and ability to readily join a company like ours.”Surrey’s next scheduled launch, the OTB (Orbital Test Bed) satellite, will be carrying five demonstration payloads, including the CU-Surrey Payload (CUSP) built by a CU Graduate Project team in 2014. The CUSP payload will test the effects of the near-earth space environment on low-cost commercially available microprocessors and storage systems.
Looking to the future, one of the biggest challenges faced by Surrey is the increasing competition within the small satellite market. Yoder notes:
“There is a lot of competition coming into the small satellite arena. We’ve proven with 47 satellites that there is a lot of utility with small satellites: you can get 80% of the functionality [of larger systems] with only 20% of the price. We will continue to evolve with customer needs.”
-Written by: Ari Sandberg, Intern