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UK unveils £65m for ‘high-risk, high-reward’ space innovations

UK space tech innovation funding
Image credit: NicoElNino / Shutterstock

The UK Space Agency has unveiled £65m of funding for “high-risk, high-reward” technologies to boost Britain’s space sector.

The funding is open to bids from British organisations developing new space technologies, satellite applications and other services.

Funding is being split into tranches, with the first £34m now open to proposals and the rest spread out between 2024 and 2025. Projects will run until March 2027.

The project is being managed by the National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP), the UK Space Agency’s funding arm that was established in 2020.

“Our space sector is constantly advancing thanks to pioneering new ideas from our world-class scientists and technologists that push the potential of British innovation at its best,” said George Freeman MP, minister for space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

“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.”

Unlike the US, China, Russia, and India, among others, the UK does not currently launch satellites from home soil.

Earlier this year, Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit attempted to launch a satellite from Spaceport Cornwall, but it ended in failure. Months later, the US-headquartered company filed for bankruptcy.

Despite this, several British rocket companies are nearing commercial launches. Skyrora and Orbex are developing rockets to carry small satellites to space. Both are based in Scotland, which has become the hub for Britain’s space race.

The UK has also developed strengths in space tech services, in which companies build hardware and software used by other space-faring companies.

One of those is SatVu, which used funding from the NSIP to develop a satellite that uses infrared to gather data on building emissions. It launched in June 2023, hitching a ride on SpaceX rocket, the US company founded by Elon Musk.

For space tech funding deals the UK ranks third globally – behind the US and China – according to data from investor Seraphim Space, based on the first half of 2022.

Since 2015, UK space tech companies have secured over $47bn, said Rob Desborough, managing partner at Seraphim Space, putting it only behind the US.

“In today’s interconnected world, space technologies have become critical to almost every aspect of our daily lives,” said Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency.

“The National Space Innovation Programme 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.”