UK-built device will allow faster communication between ISS astronauts and Earth

By Nilima Marshall, PA Science Reporter

A UK-built device that will allow astronauts to communicate with Earth at home broadband speeds is set to be launched on Friday evening.

The Columbus Ka-band Terminal (COLKa) will “revolutionise” the science on the International Space Station (ISS) by relaying data back instantaneously, the UK Space Agency said.

Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This is the first major industrial contribution from the UK to the ISS and it will revolutionise the ability of scientists in the UK and Europe to access the results of their experiments.

“This is yet another example of the UK economy benefiting, through investment, jobs and new skills, from our continued collaboration with the European Space Agency.”

The contract for designing and building the fridge-sized device was awarded to MDA Space and Robotics Limited, a global communications and information company based in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

A Cygnus supply ship will carry COLKa from Wallops Island in Virginia to the ISS just before 9pm UK time on Friday.

It is expected to be installed later this year outside the Columbus module, which is the ISS’s science laboratory.

The data from COLKa will be transmitted to a ground station at Harwell. From there it will be transferred to the Columbus Control Centre in Germany and other user centres across Europe.

The upgrade will ensure faster communications, independent from the Nasa system, the UK Space Agency said.

According to the European Space Agency, ColKa promises speeds of up to 50 mbps, allowing “astronauts and researchers to benefit from a direct link with Europe at home broadband speeds”.

David Kenyon, managing director at MDA Space and Robotics Limited, said: “The COLKa programme has firmly established MDA in the UK as a leading provider of high-quality space equipment, positioning us for continued business growth and new jobs in both communications and space sensor markets.”