The Surrey Space Centre is based in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences within the University of Surrey. SSC is a world leading Centre of Excellence in cost effective space engineering and its mission is to generate leading research, bringing innovation to the Space Industry and developing the next generation of satellite technologies. SSC has particular expertise on small spacecraft system design and manufacture including CubeSats, with a full end-to-end capability to develop and execute missions from cradle to grave, i.e. from mission concept design, through hardware development, manufacturing, assembly, integration and testing, to mission operation and space data applications

SSC’s research activity explores a wide range of space engineering issues including mission analysis; astrodynamics and AOCS; power systems; propulsion; payload engineering; on-board computing; communications, radar and RF systems; remote sensing applications and instrumentation; radiation environment and effects; nano/pico-satellite technologies; spacecraft structures and mechanisms. The centre has extensive facilities such as clean rooms, workshops, an electric propulsion laboratory, and a structural dynamics lab. Research projects and experiments are regularly carried into orbit on the centre’s own satellites, and those constructed by its own spin out company: SSTL, which it formed in 1985 and is now part of Airbus Defence & Space. It has contributed to some 30 space missions over the last 35 years.

Electric Propulsion research activities within SSC are focused on the development and testing of novel plasma propulsion concepts able to overcome the limitations of existing systems and to fill performance gaps in the worldwide portfolio. A Hollow Cathode Thruster was developed by SSC and launched on SSTL TechDemoSat-1. The Quad Confinement Thruster is an innovative plasma propulsion system invented at SSC with the unique feature of enabling thrust vector control without the use of mechanical gimbals. The development process has been led by the partnership SSC-SSTL-AirbusDS and the first flight unit is currently flying on board the NovaSAR satellite for in-space technology demonstration. Recent EP research programmes include the optimisation and further development of the Halo propulsion system, the experimental investigation of a microwave ECR plasma thruster, the qualification of a QCT propulsion system and hollow cathode neutraliser, the development of non-intrusive plasma diagnostic techniques for monitoring plasma thruster plumes, the propulsion system trade-off analysis for a lunar small satellite and, recently, air-breathing electric propulsion.

Experimental testing of the Quad Confinement Thruster.
Halo Thruster under development at the Surrey Space Centre.

Relevant bibliography

  • A. Gurciullo, A. Lucca Fabris, and M. A. Cappelli, “Ion plume investigation of a Hall effect thruster operating with Xe/N2 and Xe/air mixtures“, Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics 52.46 (2019): 464003.
  • A. Gurciullo, A. Lucca Fabris, A.K. Knoll, “Direct Current Plasma Electron Source for Electric Propulsion Applications Using Atomic and Molecular Propellants”, IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science 25, 9 (2017).
  • A. Gurciullo, A. Lucca Fabris, A.K. Knoll “Alternative Neutralisation Technologies Enabling the Use of Exotic Propellants in Electric Propulsion”, 35th International Electric Propulsion Conference, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA, IEPC-2017-251 (2017).

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