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UK Space Agency funds projects to tackle space rubbish and micropropulsion

The UK Space Agency is funding projects such as climate change sensors, compact propulsion systems and satellite image analysis to support the nation’s space ambitions

The UK Space Agency has awarded funding worth £300,000 to five projects to support the development of space technology through its National Space Technology Programme.

Among the projects receiving funding is the University of Leeds’ 3D printing methods and liquid-crystal technology, which aims to develop far infrared (FIR) sensors for studying climate change and star formation.

Another project, led by Rocket Engineering in London, will create a compact propulsion system the size of a house brick for use in nano and small satellites. The engines use electromagnets to enable the satellites to move for in-orbit spacecraft servicing or space debris mitigation.

The third project is the Modular Propulsion Engine (MPE) from Lena Space. MPE is an off-the-shelf, flight qualified propulsion system to support small launch vehicle programmes. The Pathfinder project will involve detailed design work on the MPE, particularly integrating several previously developed Lena subsystems – including pintle injector, electric drive cryogenic pumps and AM manufactured nozzles – into a single engine.

Another project receiving funding is one by Oxfordshire County Council in partnership with Spottitt. The project is looking at the technical and commercial viability of a low-cost, fully automated monitoring service for waste and mineral sites using satellite imagery. Current processes rely almost entirely on physical site visits to monitor activity and changes.

Satellite monitoring offers a more cost-effective and accurate alternative which can ensure activities are more frequently monitored, thus reducing the risk of long-term environmental damage. The project will first monitor waste and mineral sites in the UK, with a look to ultimately roll out the system globally.

The final project to receive funding is SuperMagdrive, from Rocket Engineering Limited, supported by Oxford University's Department of Materials. SuperMagdrive is a compact propulsion system designed for nano and small satellites and aims to target spacecraft customers interested in space debris mitigation and on-orbit spacecraft servicing.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “This investment will help UK space businesses fast-track innovative technologies with real scientific and commercial potential, supporting our aim for the UK to secure 10% of the global space market by 2030. 

“From observing climate change from space to protecting our satellites from hazardous space debris, these technologies could expand our reach in space and improve life here on Earth.”

Charles McCausland, head of major projects and technology development at the UK Space Agency, said: “As the UK extends its ambitions for the space sector, early support of this kind could prove decisive in helping us to get ahead in an increasingly competitive global environment.”

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