Soemtimes a childhood fascination can shape a lifetime. For Sir Martin Sweeting it began with forging a communications device out of two tin cans connected with a taut piece of string. This led to a schoolboy interest in amateur radio, which turned to a passion in the late 1960s at the time of the Apollo Moon landings and intoxicating space imagery from films like “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

While studying for his PhD in the late 1970s at the University of Surrey in Guildford, a town south-west of London, Sir Martin made equipment from whatever he could lay his hands on to pick up signals from American and Soviet satellites. In 1985, with £100 ($150) borrowed from the vice-chancellor, he founded Surrey Satellite Technology (SST), a firm which has pioneered the use of small satellites built from cheap off-the-shelf equipment.

Space used to be the province of superpowers, but the arrival of lower-cost small satellites brought down the price of entering the space business to a level which companies, research groups, developing nations and even some schools could afford. Now Sir Martin is preparing SST for a future in which he plans to provide essential services to a new generation of space travellers.

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