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The UK Space Agency is pumping £65m of funding into space technology projects, hoping to boost innovation.
The funding, which will be delivered through the National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP), will be awarded to a mix of major projects and early-stage innovations.
The programme is now open for applications, with £34m available through the first tranche, aiming to drive innovation and accelerate the route to market.
UK Space Agency CEO Paul Bate said space technologies “have become critical to almost every aspect of our daily lives”.
“The NSIP will support the UK’s most ambitious space technology projects and their potential to address real-world challenges, to catalyse investment, deliver new missions and capabilities, and harness the power of space to improve lives,” he said.
The government is particularly looking for “high-risk, high-reward” projects that have the potential to speed up the development of new space technologies and services.
The remainder of the fund will be split across further tranches in 2024 and 2025, and projects will run until March 2027.
Minister for space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) George Freeman said the space sector is “constantly advancing” thanks to ideas from scientists and technologists who drive innovation forward.
“Investing in these projects not only bolsters the UK’s seat at the table of the global space community, but it unlocks future business and job opportunities that will accelerate the growth of our nation’s £17.5bn space sector,” he said.
The NSIP was launched as a pilot in 2020, and has so far provided £25m in funding for space technology projects.
Applicants for funding must be able to demonstrate the potential for the project to cause significant change to the space sector and how the technology can benefit the sector.
Chair of the trade association UKspace, John Hanley, said the sector is one of the most research-intensive parts of the UK economy. He added: “The NSIP is hugely important as a catalyst for further industry investment to develop new and improved commercial products and services – driving growth across the whole of the country.”
A recent survey of the space sector found that it is struggling with recruiting and retaining the necessary technological talent.
The UK Space Agency’s Space sector skills survey 2023 surveyed businesses, government and academia, and found skills such as software and data analysis accounted for half of the unfilled roles across the sector.
It also found 95% of space organisations are experiencing skills-related issues, with 37% missing expertise in software and data analysis, and 21% needing AI and machine learning skills specifically.
The agency has committed £15m across programmes aiming to inspire young people to pursue STEM careers and empower teachers to include space learning experiences in the classroom, as well as help open up pathways for more people to get into the industry in efforts to grow the national space workforce.
Read more about space technology:
- Space sector survey shows machine learning and artificial intelligence skills are highly sought after, as the industry struggles to recruit and retain people with the necessary talent.
- 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.
- Cloud-based machine learning and other services are finding their way into space to analyse satellite imagery and monitor space debris, among other space applications.