Image of Sri Lanka taken by UK-DMC-2

Small satellite manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) of Britain has signed a tentative agreement with the government of Sri Lanka to provide a geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellite that SSTL Chief Executive Matt Perkins said Nov. 17 would weigh 2,500 kilograms at launch and provide three kilowatts of end-of-life power to the communications payload.

The agreement, if it leads to a firm contract, would end SSTL s two-year search for an inaugural customer for a telecommunications product line that would take the company far beyond its core market of providing very small science, Earth observation and technology-demonstration satellites.

The agreement with Sri Lanka includes what has become the standard SSTL business proposition of training customer personnel in the reception and use of Earth observation data and the installation of ground facilities on the customer s territory.

In the case of Sri Lanka, SSTL has tentatively agreed to install a ground station to collect data from the UK DMC-2 satellite already in low Earth orbit as part of the SSTL-managed Disaster Monitoring Constellation.

SSTL and the Sri Lankan Telecommunications Regulatory Commission signed the agreement on Nov. 16 in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo in the presence of Peter Hayes, the British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka.

In a Nov. 17 interview, Perkins said SSTL expects a contract for the hardware development could be signed by mid-2010 following a review by a special government committee.

SSTL has built more than 30 small, inexpensive satellites, most of them as part of packages that include training by Guildford, England-based SSTL in how to build satellites on a shoestring budget.

But SSTL, which in January became a subsidiary of Astrium, Europe s largest space company, has been trying to break into the commercial telecommunications market by applying its low-cost manufacturing practice to satellites designed to operate for up to 15 years in geostationary orbit.

Perkins said the SSTL product would complement Astrium s Eurostar 3000 telecommunications satellite platform and is designed to produce satellites weighing 1,000 kilograms to 3,000 kilograms at launch. He said the payload configuration for the Sri Lankan satellite has not yet been determined.

The market for commercial telecommunications satellites weighing 3,000 kilograms or less is currently dominated by Orbital Sciences of the United States and Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. Astrium has developed its own small-satellite platform in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation, and OHB Technology of Germany is developing a similar platform with funds from the 1