UK Space Agency funds raft of projects to boost UK space capabilities

Technology to help UK satellites reach higher altitudes and new launcher components that disintegrate to minimise space junk are just two of 13 projects that will receive funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA).

The body is launching a £2.7m fund for projects which are located across the UK in a bid to bolster the UK’s growing satellite launch sector.

The UK is currently on track to become the first country in Europe to offer commercial launch services to small satellite manufacturers, from a range of spaceports offering both horizontal and vertical rocket launch capabilities.

The funding from UKSA’s new Launch UK Technology Investment Programme will support teams from industry and universities to develop technology, products and services that will enhance the UK spaceflight supply chain and improve its international competitiveness.

Start-up Magdrive will receive £250,000 to further development on its Magdrive kick-stage for launch, which will allow satellites launched from the UK to reach higher altitudes and new orbits. It is hoped the drive will be used to fill a supply chain gap in the UK’s satellite launch sector.

The kick-stage uses the Magdrive electric plasma thruster, which can future-proof against the risk of colliding with or causing space debris by rapidly burning.

TISICS Metal Composites will receive £123,000 to develop launcher components that demise during re-entry, eliminating space debris.

The London-based Space Prime will receive £17,000 to demonstrate the ability to recycle advanced engineering materials, including natural cork and thermoplastics, for use in high temperature launcher propulsion systems. It is hoped this will provide the UK launch market with thermal protection systems that offer a low environmental impact.

Ian Annett, deputy CEO at UKSA, said: “Funding new science and technology developments is crucial to growing the UK space sector and catalysing further investment into our economy.

“While we look forward to marking a major milestone in UK launch capabilities with the upcoming launch from Spaceport Cornwall, projects such as these ensure we have growing pipeline of new technologies ready for lift-off to support our long-term ambitions.”

Launch services are estimated to be worth a potential £3.8bn to the UK economy over the next decade. UKSA is already delivering a programme of spaceflight projects, including Virgin Orbit’s first launch from Spaceport Cornwall, which will carry nine satellites into orbit early next year. 

Work is also under way on the construction of spaceports in Sutherland and Shetland, which will host vertical rocket launches from national and international launch providers. Further spaceports are in development at other locations in Scotland and Wales, with the potential to host a wide range of new and innovative launch technologies.

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