Government funds UK companies at the forefront of space innovation

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The cash injection is going to high-risk, high-reward projects that support companies and universities with radical ideas for how we tackle climate change through Earth Observation or address satellite communications challenges, from providing greater connectivity to remote places to increasing the efficiency of our homes.

Projects set for the cash boost include The Open University who will use the money to create the UK’s first Precision Forestry tool, TreeView, which will support efforts to tackle the climate emergency through detailed measurement of tree-planting initiatives aimed at increasing carbon dioxide removal.

Surrey-based Global Satellite Vu will build a new compact, high-resolution infrared camera for satellites to measure thermal emissions from our homes, schools and places of work, supporting the government’s green economic recovery plan.

Space Forge will take advantage of the unique qualities offered by the space environment. By manufacturing in microgravity, the space start-up hopes to produce a next-generation computer chip for the terrestrial and satellite telecommunications industries and return them from orbit for use on Earth.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

We want the UK to be a world leader in space technology which is why we are supporting our most ambitious innovators who are developing first-of-a-kind technologies to help solve some of our greatest challenges.

From slashing carbon emissions to protecting the UK’s critical services from harmful cyber-attacks, today’s funding will unshackle our most entrepreneurial space scientists so that they can transfer their revolutionary ideas into world-class products and services, while helping to boost the UK economy.

The funding comes from the UK Space Agency’s National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP), which is the first UK fund dedicated to supporting the space sector’s development of innovations, allowing us to compete internationally on the world stage with other countries, like France and Germany, which have dedicated national funding for space.

Businesses, universities and research organisations were awarded co-funding for projects that will help the space sector create new high-skilled jobs, while developing new skills and technologies on UK soil. Grants from the £15 million funding pot range from between £170,000 and £1.4 million per project.

Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:

Space technologies have become deeply embedded in, and critical to, almost every aspect of our daily lives. With rapid technological innovation, space offers a broad and growing range of opportunities to support economic activity and protect the environment.

From the satellites connecting our calls to the ones that tell us when to expect rain when we step outside, space technologies are fundamental to our day-to-day lives.

Our space sector is constantly advancing and welcoming new ideas, and through this funding we are championing the best of this British innovation.

In addition, £5 million of the programme funding has been set aside for international projects, which will focus on increasing exports and securing new inward investment, supporting UK science and the prosperity agenda by funding working relationships between world-leading researchers and institutions and developing space capabilities important to the UK’s security interests.

The call for applications for this strand of funding closed in October and successful applicants will be announced in the coming weeks.

The UK space sector is a huge economic success story, growing by over 60% since 2010. The industry already supports £300 billion of UK economic activity through the use of satellite services and is expected to grow further as this new government support unlocks commercial opportunities.

The UK also remains a leading member of the European Space Agency, which is independent of the EU. ESA membership allows the UK to cooperate in world-leading science on a global scale, enabling UK scientists and researchers access to a range of international R&D programmes.

Further details on the 21 projects

Space-based Mapping & Monitoring of Wetlands Carbon Sequestration, Argans, Plymouth, £215,866.00

Wetlands regeneration and conservation efforts offer a highly effective source of reducing emissions via carbon sequestration. The potential of wetlands is limited by the cost of mapping and monitoring. Plymouth based Argans aim to remedy this by utilising Earth Observation (EO) by developing a wetlands map to support monitoring of total carbon emissions for national accounting and to provide low-cost intelligence on how and where governments can most cost-effectively intervene to leverage wetlands as a source of carbon sequestration.

Consortium Partner: London Economics Ltd

GHGWatch, Geospatial Insight, Birmingham, £226,295.86

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are recognised as a major contributor to climate change and temperature increase, but detection and monitoring of locations where emissions are occurring is problematic and expensive using current technologies. Geospatial Insight aims to create a service which will detect, quantify and monitor point-source GHG emissions.

Consortium Partner: University of Leicester

TreeView: Precision Forestry to Tackle Climate Change, The Open University, Milton Keynes, £283,978.68

TreeView, led by The Open University, is a SmallSat mission to provide unprecedented capacity in the emerging field of Precision Forestry. A major pillar of UK’s national response to the climate change emergency is a significant increase in tree planting for a nature-based carbon capture and storage solution. In this project, the team will conduct a feasibility study, resulting in a system design document and science case that both justifies and defines the UK’s first Precision Forestry tool with a national focus but global potential.

Consortium Partners: 2Excel Geo, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Forest Research, Grey Consultants, In-Space, RAL Space, Teledyne e2v, XCAM

Development of Novel High Resolution Infrared Sensor Payload for Heat Detection, Global Satellite VU, Surrey, £1,399,179.83  

Global Satellite VU will develop and launch the world’s first small ~130kg satellite that will deliver high-quality thermal video and thermal still imagery of the Earth, initiating the design, build and integration of the infrared camera.

By launching a small constellation of infrared satellites, this project looks to measure the thermal emissions from any structure on the planet; their technology will act as the Earth’s ‘Smart Energy’ meter to monitor energy efficiency, economic activity and carbon footprint.

Consortium Partner: Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd

Nexus, Space Forge, Newport, Wales, £329,326

Space Forge is developing and launching the world’s first returnable satellite, delivering revolutionary products back to Earth to significantly improve the efficiency and sustainability of telecommunications infrastructure. They are launching a small fleet of satellites to harness the benefits of the space environment for manufacture of next generation devices, changing the way in which the UK uses space, for the benefit of its citizens on Earth.

Consortium Partners: Compound Semiconductor, Applications Catapult, AAC Clyde Space

Project CitiScan, D-Orbit UK Ltd, London, £183,158.00

Project CitiScan aim to develop a new, responsive, space-based climate observation service to support end users in their goal to achieve national and global climate obligations. The project will provide climate-related measurements of individual cities and industrial complexes to enable end-users, such as local authorities, to monitor their omissions and progress.

Consortium Partners: Thales Alenia Space UK, University of Leicester

ROKS payload flight model – discovery phase, Craft Prospect Limited, Glasgow, £345,433.00

The Responsive Operations for Key Services (ROKS) mission will demonstrate technologies for future secure telecommunication systems using Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) and supported by artificial intelligence. This discovery phase will progress the flight payload and ground test systems to Critical Design Review (CDR), before a final build and delivery to demonstrate in-orbit operation by 2022. To date the work has developed the technology basis for miniaturized space-ready QKD systems and has developed service opportunities with multinational finance, telecommunication and data providers for securing their networks.

Consortium Partners: Strathclyde University, Bristol University, Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics (CAP) Glasgow

RAPID – Real-time AI Processes for Intelligent Detection, Teledyne e2v, Chelmsford, £207,637.50

New imaging sensors designed for Earth Observation (EO) are being developed with increasing numbers of pixels and faster operating rates. Whilst this allows improved performance it presents great challenges for data handling in the satellite itself and also for data downlink given the vast amount of data generated. RAPID – Real-time AI Processes for Intelligent Detection will use space ready hardware to establish the RAPID test and demonstration system while also providing the image processing platform and algorithms to handle the significantly higher data volumes.

Consortium Partner: Craft Prospect Ltd

STORICLI (EO STOrylines for water RIsk under CLImate change), HR Wallingford, Oxfordshire, £202,529.38

The STORICLI project will look into the opportunities for using earth observation techniques to better understand how the supply and demand for water might change in the future due to climate change. HR Wallingford will develop a prototype web-based tool to help water companies and regulators consider the robustness of water resources plans, using a set of plausible future storylines.

BRAIL (Backhaul Radio Access with Integrated LEO), Satellite Applications Catapult, Harwell, £510,757.00

There is an increased recognition of the need to deliver enhanced connectivity across the globe. In this project led by the Satellite Applications Catapult, the team is developing a pioneering solution for delivering connectivity to poorly served areas, leveraging the performance and ubiquitous coverage of satellite mega-constellations with the innovation of terrestrial networks. This project is the first of its kind and will use OneWeb’s satellites to demonstrate high speed data transfer through space to the Catapult’s 5G network at its connectivity research and innovation centre in Westcott, Buckinghamshire.

Consortium Partners: OneWeb, LiveWire Digital Ltd, Uni of Strathclyde

AI4CC Toolbox,Trillium Technologies, London, £332,765.12

Applying Machine Learning (ML) to Earth observation (EO) data gives us the ability to better make predictions about how to adapt and mitigate our changing climate. Trillium Technologies aims to create a new public ‘ML Toolbox’, comprising an open repository of artificial intelligence tools such as enhanced, simulated and labelled geospatial data and advanced machine learning modules. ML4CC is dedicated to simplifying ML production and validation and ultimately improving climate related decision-making within the UK.

Consortium Partners: Oxford University Innovation, Know.space

High resolution thermal infrared space telescopes for globally monitoring the energy efficiency of buildings, University of Cambridge (Institute of Astronomy and Cambridge Zero), £294,041.26

Thermal infrared telescopes in space can monitor the energy output of buildings which makes them a powerful tool for ensuring that governments, companies and even individuals are on track to meet internationally agreed carbon emission goals. The team will study how the data can be used and develop prototypes for an innovative unfolding telescope for a nanosat constellation giving the required ground resolution (7 metres) with frequent revisit rates.

Consortium Partners: Super-Sharp Space Systems Ltd, Open Cosmos Ltd

Hyperspectral Microwave Sounder Constellation of Nanosatellites for Climate change And Mitigation (HYMS CONCAM), RAL Space, STFC, £494,022

As average global temperatures rise, hazards such as heatwaves and floods grow in frequency and severity, and chronic hazards, such as drought and rising sea levels intensify. Improved observations of our weather systems and more accurate forecasts are essential for our understanding, planning, and mitigation of extreme events. RAL Space will carry out a rigorous analysis and develop the Hyperspectral Microwave Sounder, a first of its kind, designed to provide unprecedented resolution of global moisture and temperature profiles in a highly compact form factor, allowing for a constellation deployment that will dramatically enhance global weather forecasting and climate monitoring.

Satellites for Batteries, Satellite Applications Catapult – Harwell, £463,650.55

Climate change is a defining issue of our time with transport being the UK’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The transition from greenhouse gas-emitting conventional engines to Electric Vehicles (EVs) will bring an unprecedented increase in demand for a mixture of battery metals.

This project is a collaboration between space and mining companies led by the Satellite Applications Catapult and will use satellite data with advanced analytics to increase the identification of battery metals for mining companies in the UK and internationally, whilst decreasing the overall cost and environmental degradation associated with exploration.

Consortium Partners: Decision Lab, CGG Satellite Mapping, Terrabotics, Pixalutics, Cornish Lithium, Uni of Exeter, BGS

Improved “real time” tracking of vessel performance and emissions across the global maritime system, UMAS International Ltd, Shrewsbury, £167,126.72

Shipping is responsible for approximately 1bn tonnes of greenhouse gas and significant air pollutant emissions. NSIP’s support to integrate the latest satellite measurement developments into the latest modelling, is giving UMAS and the UK a globally leading position in the decarbonisation of this important sector. This project will build on previous “big data” capabilities and modelling studies that utilise the latest satellite systems to create powerful new tools for the estimation and tracking of shipping emissions on a global scale.

Consortium: UMAS International Ltd, University College London

Laser Optical Communications for CubeSats, University of Northumbria at Newcastle, £367,659.82

The space communications sector is currently booming with the emergence of low cost, short-turnaround and high production rate satellites, such as CubeSats. One significant drawback for CubeSats is that they are not currently applicable for data intensive applications, primarily because CubeSats have low data storage and data transmission capabilities. The aim of the project is to replace the existing low-speed radio frequency transceiver used in CubeSats with the high-speed, light weight and lower power free-space optical transceivers, enabling a step-change in our approach to communications constellations and space science missions. By the end of this project, a test-bed design will have been developed together with a mission design study for future testing of the system in space.

Consortium Partner: ISOCOM Limited

Faraday+, In-Space Missions Limited, Hampshire, £235,233

In-Space Missions is using its NSIP programme to substantially extend its current Space as a Service, Faraday, capabilities. The expanded capability, Faraday+, will provide a Software Defined Satellite service which will allow customers to upload their application from the ground or buy capacity without the need to launch their own space hardware. Short-circuiting lengthy satellite build schedules lasting years and costing millions of pounds, new services using Faraday+ will be rolled out in weeks and at a fraction of traditional costs. Faraday+ will support multiple customers at the same time and underpin a significant acceleration of innovation across the whole of the UK space sector.

Consortium: Subcos Wave RF Ltd, National Physical Laboratory (NPL)

LynkCast, Lynk Global UK, Guildford, £348,061

Lynk Global UK Limited, a subsidiary of Lynk Global, is developing LynkCast that will work on Lynk’s mobile microsatellite communications network. This network will function as a “mobile network in orbit” to enable mobile phones anywhere on Earth connect to their orbiting network without the need of modification to the devices’ hardware or software. LynkCast is an innovative product, which will be accelerated by funding from the UK Space Agency, to bring the critical information services such as weather forecasts and alerts to users direct from the satellites to the mobile phones in their pockets.

Consortium Partners: With Reason Ltd, Farm.ink

Global Lidar Altimetry MISsion: GLAMIS, University of Edinburgh, £289,920.53

Space-borne lidar systems, Laser altimeter system that determines the distance by measuring light pulse travel time, are collecting important data but provide only sparse coverage, making them unsuitable for many commercially and societally important applications such as flood prediction. Scaling up these existing technologies to provide continuous global coverage would be prohibitively expensive.

The School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, GLAMIS will bring together expertise from Scotland’s growing space and photonics sectors to pioneer a new approach to space-borne lidar using a laser compatible with a small satellite and, for smaller platforms, deployable optics to collect sufficient light.

Consortium Partners: Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd (Glasgow), UK Astronomy Tech Centre, University of Strathclyde

Quantum Accelerometer Climate Explorer (Q-ACE), Thales Alenia Space, Reading, £205,437.59

The Quantum Accelerometer Climate Explorer (Q-ACE) Mission brings together cutting edge Teledyne e2v Cold Atom Space Payload (CASPA) quantum accelerometer with Thales Alenia Space’s new revolutionary Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) SkimSat satellite platform to better understand climate change. Through the development of these highly innovative technologies, the mission would measure the density of the Earth’s thermosphere, mapping the small scale structure. In the future, this could further improve climate predictions and its evolution.

Consortium Partners: Teledyne e2v, University of Birmingham, RAL Space

The Data SlipStream Project: advanced data systems to deliver timely information on Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation from Earth Observation, University of Edinburgh, £214,542.82

The University of Edinburgh will develop and demonstrate efficient, scalable data handling systems for use by organisations working on climate change mitigation. These systems will have a further potential impact on the agriculture, forestry, coastal, freshwater, urban and infrastructure domains.

Their pathfinder system, SingleTree, will use EO data to detect small scale land use changes that are important from a climate policy perspective.

Consortium Partners: Resilience Constellation Management Ltd, The Data-Driven Innovation and Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region

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