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Government injects £1.8m into space tech innovation

Funding is being split between nine projects, covering a range of technologies aiming to support new space capabilities in the UK

The government has announced £1.8m in funding for innovative space technology projects, as part of the Space Agency’s Enabling Technologies Programme (ETP).

The projects all aim to support new space capabilities and innovation in the UK space sector, covering a range of areas including using technology to manufacture medicines in space and predict weather forecasting.

Frontier Space Technologies Ltd will receive £250,000 in funding to develop the fluid transfer and biological material property testing of its lab-in-a-box, designed for in-orbit manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, biosciences and material science.

Another project receiving funding is a partnership between ICL and the University of Warwick, aiming to develop magnetometers using nitrogen-vacancy centre in diamond, which can be used for weather forecasting.

The funding comes from the latest round of the ETP, which was originally launched in 2022, with the total fund being worth £8.6m. The programme was recently incorporated into the £65m National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP), which was launched in September 2023.

UK Space Agency chief executive Paul Bate said the ETP has been “empowering scientists and engineers in universities, companies and research institutes to advance the technologies of tomorrow” for the past two years, and that the programme demonstrates the agency’s commitment “to harnessing the power of space to improve life for everybody”.

“From using satellite observations to gain a clearer picture of the way our planet is changing, to using the in-orbit environment itself to develop vital tech products more efficiently, space is central to how we can plan for a safer and more sustainable future on Earth,” he said.

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Other projects receiving funding during this tranche includes the creation of a wheat biomass estimator, using algorithms and hyperspectral imagery to estimate above-ground biomass, and creating a personalised tourniquet system for spaceflight technology.

The successful projects were announced on the opening day of the UK’s first In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM) conference yesterday (8 May). IOSM is an emerging technology that enables spacecrafts to be repaired and adjusted while in flight, as well as opening up possibilities for building products such as semiconductors more efficiently in the microgravity environment.

The agency is also backing new research studies on the IOSM market in the UK, and will launch a package of IOSM initiatives to boost the sector, including funding for the next phase of the UK’s national Active Debris Removal (ADR) mission.

A recent survey of the space sector found 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.

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