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UK National Space Strategy and industrial developments

UK and European Space Agency funding boost for satellite launch from Shetland

Satellite launch company RFA UK (Rocket Factory Ltd) has received £3.5 million to support its plans to launch from SaxaVord Spaceport in the Shetland Islands.

The funding was awarded by the UK Space Agency as part of the European Space Agency (ESA), Boost! Programme, which aims to help innovative companies develop new launch technologies and bring them to market.

RFA UK will use the funding to develop and operate the infrastructure and test equipment needed to enable them to launch from SaxaVord Spaceport and are planning to launch in Q2 2024. RFA UK and SaxaVord Spaceport anticipate around 90 skilled jobs will be created locally when the spaceport reaches full operational capability including spaceport operations and administration, integration, testing and launch.

A subsidiary of Rocket Factory Augsburg AG (RFA AG), the UK company is headquartered in Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland. RFA AG will have exclusive access to SaxaVord’s ‘Fredo’ launch pad from where it plans to provide a regular cadence of launch services as one of the spaceport’s anchor customers.

Measuring 30 metres tall and 2 metres wide, the RFA ONE launch vehicle is a three-stage launch vehicle capable of deploying up to 1,300 kg to a 500 km polar orbit. The rocket uses efficient and environmentally friendly Helix staged-combustion engines, stainless steel tanks and standardised components from other industries to offer flexible, low-cost and precise transportation into orbit with its Redshift OTV...
New funding to fuel space sustainability - UK Space Agency

A total of £2 million is available for feasibility studies that can demonstrate the ability to refuel a UK national debris removal mission and look at opportunities for refuelling a commercial satellite as well.

Daily life relies on space services – from navigation and weather forecasting to financial services and TV. It is therefore essential that we preserve the space environment for future generations as we do here on Earth.

Millions of defunct space objects are currently orbiting the planet – almost 37,000 measuring larger than 10cm and an estimated 130 million measuring less than 1 cm. These can be anything from old satellites to astronaut tools and even flecks of paint. The speed at which they travel means they are a constant threat to ‘live’ satellites.

As part of a package of initiatives to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the outer space environment, the UK Space Agency is leading work to develop UK capabilities in this area and demonstrate leadership in more sustainable space operations.

One such initiative is a UK national debris removal mission, planned for launch in 2026 and designed to be refuellable.

As satellite launch costs continue to fall and new technologies – such as highly manoeuvrable satellites that can dock with others and perform tasks like refuelling – come online, the UK Space Agency is inviting bids from UK organisations to develop feasibility studies to support the mission and the development of future capabilities...
New UK funding for space technology projects - UKSA

The Enabling Technologies Programme (ETP) provides opportunities for the UK space sector to accelerate the development of leading-edge technologies that could be used to tackle global problems and benefit the work of space organisations internationally.

The total government funding is £4 million - made up of £3.2 million from the UK Space Agency with £800,000 contributed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The projects from academia and industry explore how space can be used more efficiently for purposes such as weather prediction, climate-change monitoring, and space debris removal through methods of propulsion, sterilisation, in-orbit servicing, imaging, and more...


University of Southampton (£201,000) – Development of a sterilisation method using non-thermal plasma to support human spaceflight and exploration. 

University of Southampton (£102,000) – Development of Raman-spectroscopy (which uses scattered light to measure vibrational energy of samples) for detecting low level biosignatures (substance that provide evidence of life), which will particularly support exploration of icy worlds, including the Moon and Mars. 

Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics, UK (£240,000) – Development of a low SWaP light detection and ranging method (LiDAR) instrument that can be mounted onto unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support Earth observation.

Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics, UK (£247,000) – Development of low cost, room temperature photon counting detectors that can be used in imaging, sensing and optical communications. 

University of Manchester (£190,000) – Development of alternative motion techniques that expand the range and operating capabilities for extra-terrestrial robotics, supporting future rover and exploration missions. 

Imperial College London (£144,000) – Development of a new approach for magnetometer systems that reduces the need for booms on a spacecraft, helping to lower the cost of space science missions. 

MDA Space and Robotics (£147,000)– Development of a novel laser sensor to make complex, vision-based missions possible in poor illumination conditions. 

RAL Space (£233,000) – Development of a highly stabilised laser which can be used in low Earth orbit to support space weather measurement. 
MDA Space and Robotics UK (£141,000) – Development of short-range, rotating LiDAR, more efficient in terms of size, weight and power, that can be used in planetary surface robotics. 

Surrey Space Centre, University of Surrey (£250,000) – Development of a detector for high energy particles that can be used in solar or cosmic ray missions and to enhance space weather predictions. 

University of Birmingham (£250,000) – Development of a new operational and technical capability to assess the state and condition of satellites from orbit using sub-THz radar imagery, supporting in-orbit service capabilities.

University of Leicester (£183,000) – Development of sample return instrument boxes and portable sample containers to support rover and sample return missions. 

Durham University (£159,000) – Development of a solar polarimeter (optical instrument used to determine polarisation of light samples) that can be wavelength-tuned to measure the solar magnetic field over several hundred kilometres depth within the second layer of the Sun’s atmosphere. 

University of Hertfordshire (£100,000) – Project to substantially increase the dynamic range of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) imaging sensors to support astronomy, in collaboration with XCAM and the Open University.

University of Glasgow (£250,000) – Additive manufacturing material and process testing in a simulated space environment, enabling rapid, sustainable and cost-effective component qualification. 

University of Glasgow (£290,000) – Pilot scale testing of an autophage (self-consuming) propulsion system – whereby the spacecraft consumes its own body as fuel – which supports scalable, cost-effective low Earth orbit access. 

Teer Coatings Ltd (£124,000) – Development of a novel bimetallic doped, thin-film MoS2 solid lubricant with long lifetime, low friction coefficient and stability under atmospheric conditions. An enabling technology for long duration missions. 

Oxford Dynamics (£194,000) – Development of a long-range radar system capable of detecting objects in low Earth orbit, which could support space debris mitigation operations. 

Newton Launch Systems (£194,000) – Development of a nitrous oxide monopropellant thruster using induction heating as the trigger, with the aim of providing a solution to end-of-life satellite disposal. 

University of Bristol (£206,000) – Use of data from NASA’s UK-backed Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission to improve order of magnitude accuracy for global flood modelling. 

Orbit Fab (£228,000) – Development of an in-orbit refuelling interface, using a grasping technique, to enhance satellite servicing solutions that support sustainable space operations. 

University of Strathclyde (£250,000) – Development of a technique combining hyperspectral technology (imagine using a wide electromagnetic spectrum) with machine learning to determine the movement of space objects, with could support active debris removal operations. 

GMV (£250,000) – Development of a novel distributed simulation environment using a robotic testbed with digital twins and cutting-edge extended reality to verify and validate IOSM operations. An enabling technology for in orbit refuelling and satellite servicing.

Space for Our Future: UK aims to join Atlantic Constellation with funding for new Earth observation satellite - UKSA

This new commitment, announced on the opening day of the UK Space Conference in Belfast, will further strengthen the UK’s national capabilities in Earth observation technology and complement the UK’s contributions to the EU Copernicus programme, European Space Agency and bilateral missions.

The UK Space Agency is providing £3 million to support the build of the new pathfinder satellite, intended to be one of the first in the Constellation, with co-funding from Open Cosmos, based on the Harwell Space Campus in Oxfordshire.

The Atlantic Constellation is a flagship, global project for the development of a constellation of small satellites for Ocean, Earth and Climate monitoring.

The satellite built in the UK will be of the same design and launched in the same orbital plane as 3 others from Portugal constituting the first batch of the constellation. This will significantly increase the frequency of revisit time at the beginning of the Constellation formation, offering valuable and regularly updated data, and supporting critical services such as the detection, monitoring and mitigation of natural disasters...
£47 million investment to supercharge space infrastructure across the UK - UKSA

The Space Clusters Infrastructure Fund (SCIF) has awarded more than £47 million for 12 projects which will be doubled by match funding from the sector, representing over £98 million of new private/public investment in space research and development infrastructure. Further projects will be announced in the coming weeks.

Not only will the funding support the growth of UK space businesses and create new jobs, but it will enhance the UK’s offering of space capabilities and services to international investors and major space players. SCIF funding builds upon investment the UK Space Agency has made to develop the UK space ecosystem; building and connecting clusters of space capabilities across the country which create the environments for businesses to start-up and flourish. These clusters will help SCIF projects connect to local talent and supply chains and ensure the benefits of this investment are shared across the UK.

Funded SCIF projects across the UK include:

Thales Alenia Space: Harmonica Project, Harwell

Funding: £6 million

This project will install and commission a cleanroom and three R&D laboratories to perform system development, assembly & integration of satellites, with state-of-the-art digital factory 4.0 capabilities, enabling Thales Alenia Space to deliver satellites and systems for institutional, defence and commercial markets.

Magdrive Ltd: Disruptive Experimental Electric Propulsion Laboratory (DEEP Lab), Harwell

Funding: £1.8 million

Building a state-of-the-art Electric Propulsion (EP) facility to meet the growing demands of small-satellite EP, serving as a cornerstone for EP development and startup prototyping in the UK.

Smiths Interconnect: C-SQUARE, Dundee, Scotland

Funding: £1.9 million

This project will expand and open up access to infrastructure for rapid engineering, qualification, and digital fabrication to dramatically reduce time-to-market, costs of radio frequency (RF) and optical space components. 

Northumbria University: North-East Space Skills and Technology (NESST) Centre, Newcastle

Funding: £10 million

This project will deliver R&D infrastructure needed to make space products mission-ready, accelerating their entry into commercial markets, through the re-development of a site on Northumbria University’s city centre campus, helping to position the UK as a global leader in optical satellite comms, space weather and space-based energy.

Airbus Defence and Space: Space Community Catalyst Facility, Stevenage

Funding: £3.9 million

Airbus Defence and Space Ltd will establish at their Stevenage site a ‘catalyst facility’ for use by the space community; providing industrial grade R&D facilities to develop, de-risk, validate and verify technology across the space mission and service life cycle for civil, defence and commercial use.

iCOMAT: ACMA, Somerset

Funding: £4.8 million

iCOMAT will create a new fully automated production facility and form a cluster of domestic R&D and production sites that leverages the UK’s expertise in composite materials to deliver the new state of the art in space structures. The cluster will enable users of the infrastructure to develop world-class products across multiple space market segments.

URA Thrusters, Westcott Venture Park, Buckinghamshire

Funding: £5.9 million

This proposal is for a 62,000 sq. ft development including training facilities, communal space and shared technical facilities available for industry and academia to rent, including a lecture theatre, classrooms, a workshop and space for industry to rent. This facility will be a ‘destination’ for visitors to the Westcott Space Cluster, and a vital service for those based here.

Open Cosmos: Larger Earth observation platforms And Production (LEAP), Harwell

Funding: £5 million

Open Cosmos will put in place the latest industrial facility to expand its manufacturing and R&D capability for microsatellite and constellation markets, while also extending its reach of data commercialisation, and expertise with organisations such as Space Park Leicester.

Snowdonia Aerospace LLP: Space Technology Test Centre, North Wales

Funding: £800,000

Snowdonia LLP will develop the Space Technology Test Centre (STTC) at the Snowdonia Space Centre, Llanbedr, Gwynedd, in partnership with Newton Launch Systems Ltd. The centre will exploit the unique location of the Snowdonia Space Centre, with its own immediate Danger Area and direct access to a larger Danger Area over Cardigan Bay, to provide a flight test range for rocket-powered test vehicles, near-space scientific flights, microgravity research and trials of re-entry vehicles and payload recovery systems. The test range will be complemented by a space technology testing laboratory featuring a centrifuge, thermal vacuum chamber, vibration table, aerostructures rig and a rocket engine test stand.

Radtest Ltd: SEREEL2 project, Harwell

Funding: £300,000

This project proposes work to establish a laser single-event effects test capability in the UK for the first time, replacing the need to travel overseas to a test facility for space radiation testing of electronics.

Centre for Modelling and Simulation Services Ltd: Collaborative Space Data Centre (COSDAC), South West, Bristol and a partnership on the project with The Open University in Milton Keynes

Funding: £342,000

Centre for Modelling and Simulation (CFMS) will develop the Collaborative Space Data Centre (COSDAC) to address a strategic gap in commercial data centre provision for the space industry. A dedicated space data centre that leverages advanced technologies such as simulation, AI, and robotics testing.

Space Forge, Cardiff

Funding: £7.9 million

This project will see the design and build of a National Microgravity Research Centre, creating a world-class, and unique, facility for advanced material research and production with an initial focus on growth of inorganic crystal structures in microgravity. Alongside the development of centre tooling and open access facilities for customers, the centre will create a central space hub for the growing Welsh space sector.