Sir Martin Sweeting wins aerospace award

Sir Martin Sweeting, founder and executive chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) and Director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, has been presented with the International von Kármán Wings Award for his contributions to aerospace. 

As the 2012 recipient, Sir Martin Sweeting has been recognised for his technical and leadership contributions to aerospace academia and industry – in particular pioneering the concept of rapid-response, low-cost and highly capable small satellites for Earth observation, communications and space science. 

Since 1985 the International von Kármán Wings Award has been presented to aerospace pioneers who have made outstanding contributions in the field of science and engineering over a sustained period of time. Previous recipients of the prestigious award include science fiction writer and inventor Arthur C Clarke, NASA Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and aircraft designer Burt Rutan. 

The Aerospace Historical Society, and the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) presented the award in a ceremony on 13th September at the Athenaeum. Special guests including Dr. S. Pete Worden, Center Director of NASA Ames Research Center, and Mr. Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Designer at SpaceX, spoke of Sir Martin’s contribution to space.

Sir Martin commented: “It is a privilege to be recognised in the von Kármán Wings Award, and to share this accolade with visionaries and innovators that I greatly admire. During my career, small satellites have developed from being a research curiosity to become instrumental in scientific research, understanding our planet, and satellite navigation –I am thrilled to have played a part to make this all possible.”

David Willetts, Science and Universities Minister, praised Sir Martin and congratulated him on his award. He said: “Look at what he’s achieved. You begin with an idea in a university department, you then spin it out from the university, you then grow it as an independent company, you then accept that it is going to be bought by a very large operation like EADS Astrium but you are able to maintain the distinctive identity of SSTL within the wider business family. Each one of those transitions is so hard to manage and many companies come a cropper at each one. The fact that he has managed each one of these transitions tells me that he is a very successful business leader indeed.”

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, vice chancellor of the University of Surrey, added: “Martin has enormous energy. He inspires everyone around him, in terms of being a leader but also an innovator, he has all the characteristics of a space entrepreneur. Martin’s work setting up SSTL and at the Surrey Space Centre was extremely important to the university. For many people space and Surrey are synonymous. He has created a legacy that will go on for many, many decades to come.”

As a leading authority on satellite technology Sir Martin is recognised in NASA, ESA and throughout the world. He was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen in the 2002 British New Year Honours for services to the small satellite industry and is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Surrey and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Sir Martin founded SSTL with a vision to change the economics of space, making space more accessible to all. Utilising modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology, SSTL has developed a new market for small but advanced satellites and provides innovative and reliable cost effective solutions for established space agencies, emerging nations space programmes, commercial and research organisations.

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