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SuperSharp Space System’s £2m adds new possibilities to orbiting telescopes





SuperSharp Space Systems is making inroads into the deployment of its innovative earth-observation telescopes thanks to a £2m funding boost in a range of new projects.

The funds come from sources including Innovate UK, the ESA (European Space Agency) and the UK Space Agency, and will result in the development of a prototype and a qualification model.

SuperSharp's has received a £2m investment from the European Space Agency and UK Space Agency for a in-orbit thermal telescope. Picture: Keith Heppell
SuperSharp's has received a £2m investment from the European Space Agency and UK Space Agency for a in-orbit thermal telescope. Picture: Keith Heppell

SuperSharp is a University of Cambridge spin-out co-founded in 2017 by CEO Marco Gomez-Jenkins, CSO Prof Ian Parry and CTO George Hawker.

Today the company is developing unfolding space telescopes to capture high-resolution thermal infrared (TIR) images of the Earth. The low-cost, high-resolution telescopes can fit into a small satellite: its frequent Earth-imaging technology – which can take an image for every 6m of land or sea – can be used for applications including climate change data, crop monitoring, and global security. In-orbit launches are expected in 2026.

In 2023 SuperSharp, which is based at Blenheim House on Cambridge Innovation Park, signed a strategic alliance with Satlantis, the largest European provider of high-resolution optical payloads for small satellites. The Spanish company took a majority stake, with CEO Juan Tomas Hernani stating that “SuperSharp is the best company to enlarge the camera spectrum and embark hard infrared eyes into our missions”.

From left at SuperSharp Space Systems are Marco Gomez-Jenkins CEO and co-founder; Dr George Hawker, CTO and co-founder; and Prof Ian Parry, CSO and co-founder. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left at SuperSharp Space Systems are Marco Gomez-Jenkins CEO and co-founder; Dr George Hawker, CTO and co-founder; and Prof Ian Parry, CSO and co-founder. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The SuperSharp board now includes Satlantis and SuperSharp executives,” said Marco Gomez-Jenkins in a video call, adding: “SuperSharp started out as a research project at the Institute of Astronomy. Prof Ian Parry was looking at unfolding telescopes for use on other planets and Dr Hawker was also in that team, and we started looking at how to use these telescopes for thermal application and, from what we’ve seen since we started, this is the best solution given that we can launch it as a very small package and deploy telescopes in space.

“In the initial stages we received Cambridge Enterprise and angel investments: last year we were acquired by a larger space company in Satlantis, so now we’re part of the group – they have a presence in Spain, the UK, the US and France. It’s a very good fit.”

Applications for the telescope’s thermal imaging prowess include detecting natural disasters such as wildfires; monitoring crop growth and predicting droughts to increase crop yield; and identifying inefficient buildings that require renovation to minimise CO2 emissions and support a country's net-zero ambitions.

“A thermal image shows temperature gradients,” says Marco. “So a satellite orbits Earth and we create different temperature maps and we’ve been mainly focusing on environmental applications such as heat stress in crops and buildings in cities.

“28 per cent of global energy-related carbon emissions come from the emissions of buildings and you can mitigate against that. With buildings it’s heat loss assessment and we’ve worked with Cambridge City Council to explore this application.”

SuperSharp's has received a £2m investment from the European Space Agency and UK Space Agency for a in-orbit thermal telescope. Picture: Keith Heppell
SuperSharp's has received a £2m investment from the European Space Agency and UK Space Agency for a in-orbit thermal telescope. Picture: Keith Heppell

SuperSharp, won’t be putting the satellites up itself, that’s for a third party – a Virgin or SpaceX-type of commercial venture. But with two products on the go – the unfolding space telescope, and a new wide-field view telescope – this new technology can take detailed images of the whole Earth’s surface in weeks, or days if multiple telescopes are used.

Harshbir Sangha, missions and capabilities delivery director at the UK Space Agency, said: “SuperSharp’s thermal imaging technology could help provide a clearer picture of heat patterns in cities, informing important decisions about the steps needed to reduce our impact on environmental temperatures.

“This work is a brilliant example of how investment in space technology can help us improve life on Earth and mitigate climate challenges.”

Marco concluded: “The last 12 months have been transformative for SuperSharp. The innovative solutions that we’re developing will enable ultra-high resolution thermal mapping from space to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from decarbonisation of cities to global security. Having secured several new projects with world-leading space agencies and others, we’re now hard at work developing multiple space telescopes, as we move towards an in-orbit demonstration beginning in 2026.”



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