New British funding for space technology projects
The Enabling Technologies Program (ETP) provides opportunities for the UK space sector to accelerate the development of pioneering technologies that can be used to address global problems and benefit the work of space organizations internationally.
Total government funding is £4 million – made up of £3.2 million from the UK Space Agency and £800,000 contributed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Projects from academia and industry explore how space can be used more efficiently for purposes such as weather forecasting, climate change monitoring, space debris removal through propulsion methods, sterilization, on-orbit servicing, imaging, and more.
Dr Paul Butt, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:
Space science and technology have never been more important to life on Earth. The Enabling Technologies Program demonstrates how our work at the UK Space Agency is enabling scientists and engineers at universities, companies and research institutes to develop new capabilities and advance the technologies of tomorrow. From using space-based data to predict weather and monitor floods, to new methods of propulsion and servicing in orbit, these new projects are great examples of how we can harness the power of space to protect our planet and our people.
One project from the University of Glasgow explores how a spacecraft could consume its own body as fuel – to support access to scalable and cost-effective low Earth orbit.
Meanwhile, the University of Bristol is considering using data from the UK-supported Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, which aims to achieve an improvement in resolution or scale for global flood modeling.
Another project run by Oxford Dynamics is investigating how a long-range radar system can detect objects in low Earth orbit to support space debris mitigation operations.
Professor Graham Blair, Executive Director of STFC Programmes, said:
We are living through a very exciting time for the UK space industry. Thanks to initiatives like the Enabling Technologies Program, our space scientists are constantly pushing the boundaries of Earth observation, satellite communications, and even manned space exploration, with countless benefits for society. STFC is proud to partner with the UK Space Agency to support the UK space science community and help establish the UK as a global leader in the space economy.
Support from the ETP Fund is key to addressing project barriers to research and development, and bringing high-value space technologies to market that can create jobs and benefit people, businesses and communities for generations to come.
University of Southampton (£201,000) – development of a sterilization method using non-thermal plasma to support human spaceflight and exploration.
University of Southampton (£102,000) – development of Raman spectroscopy (which uses scattered light to measure the vibrational energy of samples) to detect low-level biosignatures (matter that provides evidence of life), which will particularly support the exploration of icy worlds, including icy worlds . Moon and Mars.
Fraunhofer Center for Applied Photonics, UK (£240,000) – Development of a low-SWaP light detection and ranging (LiDAR) instrument that can be mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support Earth observation.
Fraunhofer Center for Applied Photonics, UK (£247,000) – development of low-cost room-temperature photon counting detectors that can be used in imaging, sensing and optical communications.
University of Manchester (£190,000) – Develop alternative locomotion technologies that extend the range and operating capabilities of extraterrestrial robots, supporting future travel and exploration missions.
Imperial College London (£144,000) – Developing a new approach to magnetometer systems that reduces the need for booms on spacecraft, helping to reduce the cost of space science missions.
MDA Space and Robotics (£147,000) – development of a new laser sensor to make complex vision-based tasks possible in poor lighting conditions.
RAL Space (£233,000) – development of a highly stable laser that can be used in low Earth orbit to support space weather measurement.
MDA Space and Robotics UK (£141,000) – Development of a short-range, rotating LiDAR, more efficient in terms of size, weight and power, that could be used in planetary surface robotics.
Surrey Space Centre, University of Surrey (£250,000) – development of a high-energy particle detector that could be used for solar or cosmic ray missions and to enhance space weather predictions.
University of Birmingham (£250,000) – Develop new operational and technical capability to assess the health and condition of satellites from orbit using sub-terahertz radar imagery, supporting the service’s in-orbit capabilities.
University of Leicester (£183,000) – development of sample return toolboxes and portable sample containers to support rover and sample return missions.
Durham University (£159,000) – Development of a solar polarimeter (an optical instrument used to determine the polarization of light samples) whose wavelength can be tuned to measure the solar magnetic field at a depth of several hundred kilometers within the second layer of the Sun’s atmosphere.
University of Hertfordshire (£100,000) – A project to dramatically increase the dynamic range of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) imaging sensors to support astronomy, in collaboration with XCAM and the Open University.
University of Glasgow (£250,000) – Additive manufacturing materials and process testing in a simulated space environment, enabling rapid, sustainable and cost-effective qualification of components.
University of Glasgow (£290,000) – experimental testing of a self-propulsion (self-consumption) system – where the spacecraft consumes its own body as fuel – which supports access to scalable and cost-effective low Earth orbit.
Teer Coatings Ltd (£124,000) – development of a new MoS2 thin-film bimetallic coated solid lubricant that has long life, low coefficient of friction and stability under weather conditions. Enabling technology for long-duration missions.
Oxford Dynamics (£194,000) – development of a long-range radar system capable of detecting objects in low Earth orbit, which could support space debris mitigation operations.
Newton Launch Systems (£194,000) – development of a nitrous oxide thruster using induction heating as the actuator, with the aim of providing a solution for the disposal of satellites at the end of their life.
University of Bristol (£206,000) – Using data from NASA’s UK-supported Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission to improve the order-of-magnitude accuracy of global flood modeling.
Orbit Fab (£228,000) – Develop an on-orbit refueling interface, using grab technology, to enhance satellite servicing solutions that support sustainable space operations.
University of Strathclyde (£250,000) – Developing technology that combines hyperspectral technology (imagine using a broad electromagnetic spectrum) with machine learning to identify the movement of space objects, which could support active debris removal operations.
GMV (£250,000) – Develop a new distributed simulation environment using automated testing with digital twins and cutting-edge extended reality to verify and validate IOSM processes. Enabling technology for on-orbit refueling and satellite servicing.