UK space sector boosted with £15m satellite technology fund
The science minister, Nusrat Ghani, has unveiled a new £15m fund to support UK space businesses for the development of satellite communications technology.
The competition, running until next spring, aims to focus on creating entire new satellite constellations, ground systems or delivering new services to customers. It will be funded through the UK Space Agency’s leading role in the European Space Agency (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunications Services (ARTES) programme.
Ghani, who stepped into the position of science minister within Liz Truss’ cabinet at the beginning of this month, said the funding will help “to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in the satellite communications market” and boost STEM skills in the UK.
“There are a series of important programmes on the table and I want to harness opportunities in space to grow the UK economy, create jobs and inspire young people into STEM careers,” she added.
The £15m fund comes as Impact Evaluation of UK Investment in the European Space Agency, found that every £1 invested in ESA generated an overall return of £11.80 for the UK economy. The report also showed the UK is in the top three nations in terms of scientific output, behind Germany and the US.
The UK’s role in ESA is an important part of delivering on the government’s ambitious National Space Strategy. In 2019, the UK committed £374m per year over five years to the space agency.
“Our ESA membership delivers huge advantages to the UK, by catalysing investment into the sector, backing innovative companies, and providing access to new missions and capabilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope,” said Dr Paul Bate, chief of the UK Space Agency.
“This new report demonstrates how our participation in ESA translates into real results for the UK economy and continues to play an important role in meeting our national space ambitions.”
The announcement of the competition fund comes alongside the news that the lack of STEM skills in the UK has left gaps in employment across the country’s pharmaceutical, defence and aerospace sectors.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills revealed earlier this year that 43 per cent of STEM vacancies were hard to fill due to a shortage of applicants, leaving tech skills in even higher demand and risking the UK’s ambitions to become a leader in the global space industry.
In response to the new fund, Nadeem Gabbani, founder of Exobotics, commented: “All eyes are on the UK space sector at the moment, so it is vital that we demonstrate the growth and strength of the industry through upcoming launches, economic growth and widespread job creation in order to establish the UK as a major player in the global space market.
“The support and investment provided by the new minister should be used to make space accessible for everyone by breaking down the barriers to entry for companies outside of the space industry.”
Despite the challenges, the UK has been one of the leaders of innovation in the space sector. At the moment, Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl aeroplane is awaiting the green light to proceed with the first-ever satellite launch from the UK and Scotland has recently published a Space Sustainability Roadmap - the first of its kind in the world - declaring the nation's commitment to reducing the environmental impact of its space sector.
Earlier this week, six UK universities announced they would help to deliver a major upgrade to the cosmic microwave background (CMB) experiment known as Simons Observatory (SO), which aims to study the origins of the universe.
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