Flann Microwave has been a key part of the Space Industry since they were approached by the Jet Propulsion laboratory (JPL, NASA) in 2015.
At the time, Flann were already renowned for their extensive experience in supplying high quality waveguide products and solutions to a broad range of markets including Cellular Infrastructure, Test & measurement, and Research & Academia.
JPL were seeking high-precision ka-band waveguide attenuators for their Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite; the first Earth water monitoring satellite in history. After providing engineering models for testing at JPL, they proceeded with procuring a range of flight models with two of these now being installed on SWOT, ready for the expected launch on 12th December. Since then, Flann has worked with RAL Space on their mm-wave receivers for the Met-Op Second Generation range of satellites due for launches commencing from 2025 onwards, as well as other flight hardware projects or other customers.
Technical Sales Manager Sam Brokenshire comments, “The Space market is currently growing exponentially and we’re hoping to take advantage of this demand. At this moment in time, the Space market for Flann accounts for <5% of current projects at any one time, but we could be seeing this figure increase significantly over just the next few years.”
To present-day Flann has successfully designed a range of different waveguide solutions for flight hardware testing. The range of high-precision waveguide attenuators for JPL provided minimal performance variation over the extremes of Space, specifically with regards to the fast temperature changes which can be expected. Flight quality test equipment to be used by JPL for in-house testing, such as waveguide to coaxial adapters and waveguide terminations has also been supplied for the SWOT mission.
Our work with RAL Space moved us higher in frequency as the Met-Op receivers were required to operate in V-band and W-band which consisted of a range of bespoke thin-walled waveguide units which included a combination of complex twists and bends.
Flann are now being seen as a more established part of the Spaceflight supply chain and therefore, we’re seeing a surge in demand for Q/V-band instruments. To meet this demand, we’re developing a range of waveguide products which are suitable for Spaceflight, with some due to be qualification tested within the next 12 months. These instruments include electro-mechanical waveguide switches, antennas and antenna feed systems, and other waveguide products and assemblies.
“Some of these requirements are from new start-ups working in the Space sector who are driving down the cost for Space solutions with a ‘New Space’ approach. With a large design team, manufacturing plant and RF test facility all based on-site in the Southwest of the UK, and with decades of waveguide heritage providing highly reliable ‘design-qualified’ solutions, Flann are well positioned to take advantage of this new approach.”
Closer to home the Space sector continues to grow with the UK’s participation rapidly growing along with it. The announcement of Virgin Orbits Cosmic Girl launching from the home of Spaceport Cornwall has given a real boost to local companies like Flann, who are gaining momentum in their involvement within the Space industry.
Brokenshire comments “It’s great that Spaceport Cornwall has formed to provide horizontal launches so close to us here at Flann. The recent news of the operating licence for launches now being approved by the CAA is creating a buzz not just across Cornwall but the whole of the UK. I think we’re all really excited for the first launch which is now very close.”
Spaceport Cornwall has been paramount in bringing together companies from across Cornwall which either manufacture hardware for Spaceflight (upstream) or use the data for the benefit of not just local but national and worldwide organisations (downstream). These companies form part of a group called The Cornwall Space Cluster and Flann’s involvement with satellite operators and integrators put us within the group of hardware suppliers based in Cornwall.
Being part of the cluster has been great for us in reaching out to new potential users of our products through support in exhibiting at Space events such as Space Tech Expo and Space Comm, and through our own networking events where like-minded companies have been brought together to form collaborations and offer a stronger position in the Space market.
Not only that, the formation of Spaceport Cornwall has resulted in the creation of local degree level courses for Space Engineering and similar qualifications at Truro & Penwith College, which will undoubtedly provide new career paths for students who don’t want to leave the county – plus those who want to relocate to Cornwall and take up a career in the Space industry.