Home >> April 2013 Edition >> Executive Spotlight: Dr. John Paffett
Executive Spotlight: Dr. John Paffett
Surrey Satellite Technology US

PaffettHead Dr. John Paffett is chief executive officer for Surrey Satellite Technology US (SST-US), the United States subsidiary of small satellite manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). SST-US was created to serve the U.S. market with rapid, cost-effective small satellite systems, applications, and services.

In addition to leading the expansion into the United States, John is also responsible for SSTL’s telecommunications, navigation and launch activities, including the development of Surrey’s small Geostationary Satellite Platform, capturing and executing the provision of 22 payloads for the European GNSS system Galileo, and in the source and provision of secondary and piggy back small satellite launch opportunities.

MilsatMagazine (MSM)
What successes has SST-US enjoyed since the 2012 National Space Symposium?

Dr. Paffett
We’ve had a very busy and successful 12 months. Since April 2012 when we announced the spare capacity available for hosting payloads onboard our upcoming Orbital Test Bed (OTB) mission, we’ve been working with several teams to examine the accommodation of their ancillary payloads and equipment. We’ve now almost completed the finalization of the OTB payload suite, but based on customer interest, we will almost certainly be looking to provide flight opportunities for third-party payloads on future missions. In fact we’re even now considering the possibility of an OTB-2. Surrey’s been flying hosted payloads for more than 25 years, during which time we must have flown 50+ payloads across 30 or more missions—these are missions we have strong experience in successfully completing.

We celebrated a NASA contract win last year with our inclusion in the CYGNSS team, selected for NASA’s EV2 program. Led by the University of Michigan, and in partnership with the Southwest Research Institute and NASA Ames Research Center, the mission will use a constellation of eight satellites flying our SGR-ReSI GPS receivers for the measurement of ocean surface winds to help improve weather prediction and hurricane forecasting.

We’re particularly pleased to be involved in NASA’s EV-2 CYGNSS constellation mission, which will fly eight Surrey SGR-ReSI instruments. Again, we’re working with another great team, which always helps, but the application is very exciting, and it further demonstrates the important role that small satellite solutions can play in today’s world.

This year has also been an important one for moving forward some of our strategic partnerships. Earlier in the year, we announced an agreement with Aeroflex of Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the manufacture of spacecraft electronic assemblies; and during the middle of last year, an agreement with Virgin Galactic, where we will be teaming with them on their new launch system development.

We are constantly looking at how we can stimulate new markets and applications, and to accelerate the establishment of our U.S. capabilities—our teaming with “kindred spirit” partners is most important to us.

PaffettFig1 MSM
What challenges will the satellite industry—and specifically SST-US—face this year?

Dr. Paffett
One of the biggest challenges this year, is the same as last year, and that is the current economic climate, which is making business conditions very difficult. Many of the programs we’ve been pursuing have been delayed significantly, and in some cases, even been cancelled.

Our belief is that budgetary pressure is here to stay. The community will be forced to find new ways of working, to do more, and to accomplish such with less. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing at the moment is quite a mixed set of reactions from the customer community. Some appear to be in denial, hoping the environment will return to how such was previously. Others are embracing change and have found new solutions to move forwards. Others are in paralysis, struggling to figure out how they can satisfy their requirements with diminishing funding.

We believe the situation will improve as people accept the need for change. In fact, in the longer term, the increased budgetary pressures are likely to result in growth in the small satellite sector. With advances in electronics, instruments and sensors, there are great number of applications and services ideally suited to our class of mission.

Overcoming procurement and contracting difficulties will also continue to be a challenge. We’re seeing positive signs in that respect, with increasing interest in streamlining procurement. Air Force Space Command’s Space & Missile Systems Center (SMC) and NASA, for example, are looking to establish hosted payload IDIQ contracts for the provision of commercial flight opportunities for their payloads. These opportunities would be complementary contracting vehicles to the NASA Rapid III platform IDIQ contract for free-flyer missions.

Simplifying procurement and providing transparency are essential steps in managing project costs and schedules, which is why our customers like using our e-commerce site. Providing access to information and flight hardware is also one of the reasons why we have our subsystems and professional engineering services in the GSA schedule to enable simpler procurements by government agencies.

The discussion of challenges would not be complete without mentioning launchers. Securing cost-effective launch opportunities for our class of satellites continues to be a challenge, but even here we’re seeing positive signs of improvement. There is increasing pressure to utilize excess capacity on government launches, which is beginning to provide flight opportunities for piggy-back payloads. Our friends at SpaceX had a phenomenal year last year, and we should witness the number of launches start to increase significantly, which will provide future ride opportunities on the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.

There are also a number of extremely exciting ongoing developments which show significant potential. Vehicles such as LauncherOne, Ajax and ALASA will all be targeted at the small satellite end of the market, and once developed and qualified, will have a significant impact on being able to provide timely, cost-effective access to space. We’re very much looking forward to these launch systems coming to the market.

What other projects are in the works?

Dr. Paffett
One of the most significant team events was the move into our new purpose-built facilities in Englewood, Colorado, on March 1st. It has taken a lot of planning and preparation to ensure that we have sufficient capacity to meet our needs and our customers’ needs for the coming years.

We’ll provide full mission capabilities to our customers through our satellite ground station and mission operations control center; satellite manufacture and payload integration facilities; design, analysis and test equipment and tools; as well as general and secure office areas and systems.

What can we expect to see from SST-US in the coming three to four quarters?

PaffettFig2 Dr. Paffett
We’re going to be busy delivering our existing customer projects, some of which we’ve highlighted here, as well as promoting the capabilities of our innovative products, applications and solutions to meet future business needs in the small satellite industry. The institutional and commercial markets are very interested in our geospatial intelligence solutions. Our solutions include a constellation of three S-1 spacecraft delivering sub-meter imagery for a total of $160 million including launch and insurance; the agile SSTL-300-based NigeriaSat-2 providing 2.5-meter imagery for under $30 million; and the wide-area SSTL-100-based “always-on” Earthmapper satellite providing global land coverage in five days for under $10 million per spacecraft.

Surrey’s 6-meter-resolution, all-weather, day-and-night NovaSAR system offers a market-leading swath-resolution-price solution that outperforms existing SAR systems and is a timely development to meet the growing focus on maritime domain awareness as well as disaster monitoring and land management.

Additionally, the flexibility for payload accommodation and launch vehicle accommodation that we offer with our spacecraft platforms means that we are continuing to see a growing interest for technology demonstration and science missions and for disaggregated operational constellations for Earth observation, Automatic Identification System, GPS, and weather applications.

We’ve already celebrated the successful launch of two of the four satellites on Surrey’s 2013 launch manifest:

Sapphire, supplied to MacDonald Dettwiler Associates for the Canadian Department of National Defence’s first dedicated operational military satellite in support of space situational awareness; and

STRaND-1, the world’s first “phonesat,” an internally-funded “proof-of-concept” nanosatellite mission, which is flying a wide range of new technologies.

Later this year, TechDemoSat-1, a U.K.-government-backed hosted payload mission flying a suite of eight technology demonstration payloads in addition to new platform avionics designs, and,

MRES, an medium-resolution multispectral Earth observation mission for the Republic of Kazakhstan, will both be ready for launch.

We also expect to announce in the second quarter of 2013 the details of future rideshare mission opportunities available to payload providers, including the possibility of an OTB-2 mission.

Given the state of employment around the globe during these days of difficult economies... is SST-US hiring right now?

Dr. Paffett
We’re growing the team across all disciplines and are currently recruiting to find the right people who are able to help create solutions to meet our customers’ needs and contribute to our success. Our team members have a wide range of backgrounds, skills, and experiences but we all share a common enthusiasm for the space industry, for Surrey’s collaborative “small satellite” approach, and for being flexible in order to meet our commitments.

We consider it essential that future generations of scientists and engineers are encouraged to study STEM subjects and have opportunities to develop the specialized skills required to pursue careers in the space industry.

We are looking forward to the completion of the TRACSat Cubesat research project with the University of Colorado’s Aerospace Department, which will see the production of a working Cubesat model for testing proximity operations. This is part of an ongoing corporate objective to work with, and support, universities and engineering students, and we look forward to being involved in more interesting projects in the coming years.

Will SST-US be a participant at many conferences this year?

Dr. Paffett
We have a busy conference schedule ahead of us. NSS is a key event in our annual calendar and we naturally have a particular interest in several of the panel sessions, including “Hosted Payloads—Issues and Evolution”, moderated by Janet Nickloy, chairman of the Hosted Payload Alliance, and “Mission Assurance in a Budget Constrained Environment”, moderated by Wanda Austin, president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation.

Most of all, we’re looking forward to meeting with our customers and partners to learn about their requirements and offer ways to solve their business issues and needs.

SST-US at the National Space Symposium
SST-US is exhibiting at Stand 122. Please contact them on 303-790-0653 if you’d like to book a meeting.
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