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Government launches space innovation programme

The government’s innovation programme will initially pump £15m into projects using space technology to tackle global issues, as well as international space projects and partnerships

The government has launched a National Space Innovation Programme to support space technology projects in the UK.

The programme consists of a £15m fund, where £10m will be used for space technology projects aiming to tackle global issues, while £5m will be used for international space projects aiming to strengthen partnerships with other countries.

Projects that are eligible for funding will have to be either earth observation technology projects that can develop more advanced instruments and data analytics to support climate science, or communication projects focusing on how to enhance space and ground-based communication systems to support technology such as autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI), or robotics, which all rely on reliable connectivity.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said the UK has a thriving space sector, and “as well as being a science superpower, we want to lead the world in space technology”.

“The National Space Innovation Programme will ensure that our best and brightest talent have the backing they need to turn their world-class ideas into goods and services, creating jobs and opportunities dedicated to tackling the most pressing global challenges we face,” she said.

Previously, the UK government has supported space innovation on a case-by-case basis, but the aim is for the innovation programme to provide a coordinated approach to national funding, supporting the development of a UK space strategy.

The UK Space Agency wants proposals for high-risk, high-reward projects, and while £10m will be available for technology projects in the UK, £5m will be for building stronger relationships with countries such as the US, Australia and Japan through investing in international projects.

The UK Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock said the programme will “enable the UK to develop products, services and technologies while creating high-skilled jobs and boosting our economy”.  

“The UK Space Agency is leading work across government to develop the UK’s space capabilities. Our closest international competitors have well-developed national programmes alongside their European Space Agency commitments. Now is time for the UK to do the same as we increase our space ambitions,” he said.

The UK space sector has grown by 60% since 2010 and supports £300bn of UK economic activity, according to the government.

In May 2020, the UK Space Agency also announced a £1m competition to find innovations in areas such as AI to combat the growing issue of space debris.

The idea is to identify technologies focused on space surveillance and tracking (SST), which the government considers to be a growing international market, forecast to potentially reach over £100m by 2035.

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