The UK Space Agency will spend £1.6m on a series of new projects, including plans to leverage the Moon’s resources and nuclear power.
The projects supported by the UK’s Enabling Space Exploration fund could revolutionise the ability to journey deeper into space – including travel to Mars – safely and efficiently, the agency said.
They aim to use remote technologies and supplies found in space, to support long-term exploration missions.
One project is creating remote equipment which scientists can use to run experiments on biological models in deep space from Earth, with the goal of designing medical treatments for astronauts.
Other ventures include testing improved systems for recycling breathing gases while in space, and enhanced methods for extracting valuable resources, such as oxygen and metals, from Moon rock.
Another one of the projects will look at new nuclear power processes for propulsion.
“The concept of exploring deeper into space (…) is a global ambition that has been growing since humanity’s first forays into space in the 1950s,” said Dr Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency. “Supporting technologies that make that ambition a reality will help raise the international profile of UK space skills and expertise.
“Not only does this naturally unlock business opportunities all along the supply chain, but it helps inspire young people to consider the possibility of a career in space without having to leave the UK.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for the space exploration sector and I look forward to seeing how far the results of these projects will reach.”
During the event, Bates described the UK Space Agency Accelerator’s Leo and Geo programmes, aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs to develop innovations that could be used in space.
One entrepreneur who has already seen success in the space industry is Raj Ali, founding CEO of software company, RSTARS Technologies, a company that delivers web and software services to scale up SMEs.
“Despite having no prior experience within the space industry, I could see the potential for my business to contribute to our burgeoning space sector, so was delighted the space accelerator pilot welcomed entrepreneurs from other industries too,” Ali said.
At the European Space Agency Council of Ministers meeting in November, the government pledged £1.84bn for important space programmes, which includes a commitment to the UK-built Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover, set to launch to Mars in 2028.
However, only last week, members of the space sector spoke to the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee describing the UK as “toxic” for investors due to regulatory delays.
“Space is the ultimate frontier, laboratory and technology testbed,” said minister George Freeman. “The UK’s long history of leadership in deep space science and exploration is key to both understanding our solar system and origins of life and creating opportunities for our high-growth space-tech sector.
“Today’s funding is part of the government’s strategy to use our £5bn investment in space science and technology to grow our £16.5bn commercial space sector to create the businesses, jobs and opportunities of tomorrow, and the space clusters from Cornwall to Scotland.”
The projects will be led by the University of Exeter; University of Southampton, Hampshire; Open University, Buckinghamshire; MAC SciTech, South Shields; Bangor University, Wales, and Thales Alenia Space, Oxfordshire.
In 2020, the UK government bought a stake in failed satellite firm OneWeb satellite, which was aiming to develop a network of more than 650 LEO satellites designed for internet services.
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