SSTL – Surrey Satellite Technology – is what one might describe as a ’boutique’ satellite builder, specialising in compact, low-cost multi-application satellites that can do everything from communications to scientific observation. SSTL launched the STRaND-1, a ‘satellite smartphone’, earlier this year as a way of exploring ultra-small ‘nano-satellites’. But although the company is at the forefront of small scale manufacturing and dealing with the complex route to space (‘Launch negotiation is an intensive process and the launch itself is a significant cost to the overall programme’), they’re dependent on one rather old piece of technology.
Small satellite firm seeks ‘old’ chipsets: ‘Surrey Satellite Technology uses 386 chipsets to run software to provide operational functionality on its micro-satellites’. It turns out that Intel’s 386 chipset, which date back to 1985, are ideally suited to space applications. “Ironically, the limited performance of the 386 chipsets means they are perfect for our needs. The chipsets create little heat and require little power. Modern processors require big fans, which are ruled out by the absence of convection in space.” Even a 386, however, would run rings around the Space Shuttle’s systems.