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The UK Space Agency is investing in projects that could revolutionise our ability to journey deeper into space – and even travel to Mars – safely and efficiently, using remote technologies and supplies found in space to sustain astronauts and spacecraft.
One project is creating remote equipment that scientists can use to run experiments on biological models in deep space from Earth, enabling them to better understand the impact of space on human health and begin designing medical treatments for astronauts.
Other innovations, in different stages of development across the country, include testing improved systems for recycling breathing gases while in space, enhanced methods for extracting valuable resources, such as oxygen and metals, from Moon rock (known as in-situ resource utilisation) and new nuclear power processes for propulsion.
Minister of State with responsibility for Space at the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman, said, “Space is the ultimate frontier, laboratory and technology testbed. 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 SpaceTech sector.
“Today’s funding is part of the government’s strategy to use our £5 billion investment in space science and technology to grow our £16.5 billion commercial space sector to create the businesses, jobs and opportunities of tomorrow, and the space clusters from Cornwall to Scotland.”
The agency has announced £1.6 million funding for the eight projects through its Enabling Space Exploration fund on Mars Day, led by STEM Learning to celebrate innovations in space exploration and promote career opportunities in the sector.
Investment in skills and expertise is a key pillar of the National Space Strategy to grow the UK as a global space superpower, and part of our goal to enable sustainable exploration of the Moon and, eventually, Mars.
Supporting innovative technologies enables UK organisations to take part in major exploration missions with international partners.
The government pledged £1.84 billion for important space programmes at the European Space Agency Council of Ministers meeting in November, which includes a commitment to the UK-built Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover, set to launch to Mars in 2028.
Dr Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said, “The concept of exploring deeper into space – whether that means retuning to the lunar surface through the Artemis programme, or working out how we could travel to, and survive on, Mars and beyond – is a global ambition that has been growing since humanity’s first forays into space in the 1950s.
“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.”
The latest report on the size and health of the UK space sector showed that at least 47,000 people are employed in space-related jobs across almost 1,300 UK-based space organisations. It also reported a 19% increase in space-related research and development investment up to 2021.