Funding for Next Generation of Space Science Missions


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The UK has been at the heart of international space science missions, including the once-in-a-generation James Webb Space Telescope, which launched in December; Solar Orbiter, a mission to study the Sun and its effects on the solar system; and the BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

The new funding aims to encourage collaboration between industry and academia and boost technology that will support the future exploration of the universe through space-based astronomy, cosmology, solar system science and astrophysics.

Led by organisations across Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, the projects include using tiny, digitally controlled mirrors, smaller than the width of a human hair, to counteract the movements of space telescopes and get sharper images. If successful, the UK-led technology could be used as a basis for instruments on future space missions.

Another will develop a space-based atomic clock small enough to fit inside a cubesat the size of a microwave. Tests of fundamental physics, such as quantum mechanics and general relativity, rely on extremely precise time measurement. An ultra-accurate atomic clock that can fit into a tiny satellite could help revolutionise space-based physics experiments, as well as deep-space navigation for planetary science and exploration missions.

Science Minister George Freeman said:

"The UK’s space and satellite technology sector is already worth over £16 billion and growing fast. As well as our ground-breaking leadership on projects like the James Webb Telescope and Solar Orbiter missions, our UK Space Agency is supporting hundreds of SMEs developing cutting edge technology.

From miniature atomic clocks and tiny digitally-controlled mirrors that help channel light into moving spacecraft, to new space weather detectors to help warn of devastating solar storms, these new projects will ensure the UK continues to grow as a global science superpower."

The Technology for Space Science call is a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency’s National Space Technology Programme and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation. A total of £455,000 has gone to the 10 projects across the UK.

In addition to national funding, the UK is a major contributor to the European Space Agency’s Science Programme, investing approximately £94 million per year, giving UK companies opportunities to bid for high value contracts and access to European suppliers and customers, and allowing UK researchers to collaborate with European and international partners on pioneering space science missions that would be too large and ambitious for one country alone.

The National Space Strategy outlines the long-term plans to grow the UK space sector and make Britain a science and technology superpower, including building on manufacturing and technology capacity, catalysing investment and working internationally.

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