UK Space Agency Supports UK Organisations to Speed Up the Development of New Space Technologies17th Aug 2021
The UK Space Agency is committed to becoming a leader in the global space race and maximising the benefits of UK citizens. After leaving the EU, the British economy needs support, and the rapidly growing space sector can provide it. For this reason, the government and the UKSA have approved and are performing several programs to support companies involved in the creation and implementation of innovative space technologies in the areas of Earth observation, rocket and satellite engineering, orbital and suborbital launches.
Earth Observation Satellites
UK Space Agency funded companies rank first in producing small satellites in Europe and pays special attention to remote sensing technology. Many British small satellites and CubeSats are constantly monitoring forests, agricultural land, land and water transport, underground communications, and much more. It makes it possible to obtain accurate data on the state of the environment and take timely measures to protect and improve it. By 2040, UKSA plans to use many Earth observation satellites to fully meet the needs of government agencies, scientific organisations, and businesses.
A 10-year strategy was approved in 2017, including activities aimed at:
- support of private companies and startups in the development and production of small satellites;
- development of technologies for obtaining data about Earth, their processing and transmission to clients;
- expanding and strengthening the infrastructure for testing and transporting spacecraft for Remote Sensing;
- ensuring continuous technological potential.
It should spur growth, scientific leadership, social benefits and guide the UK to become a world leader in emerging Earth observation technologies.
Britain leads the small satellites market but is forced to launch them, resorting to the assistance of other countries. To get rid of this dependence, in 2017, a plan was adopted to create several spaceports for the horizontal and vertical launch of rockets from the country’s territory. Five sites may appear in Scotland, one in Wales and another in South West England. The most promising are:
- SaxaVord Spaceport (ex Shetland Space Centre), on Unst Island, Shetland Islands;
- Space Hub Sutherland;
- Cornwall Spaceport;
- Prestwick Spaceport.
The locations were chosen to consider a convenient position: proximity to the sea, elevation, the shortest trajectory for entering polar and geosynchronous orbits. It also takes into account the remoteness from residential facilities, the availability of infrastructure, communication routes.
UK spaceports will not only eliminate the need to use the services of third-party launch sites. They will also become a powerful centre for the space industry, which could potentially mean hundreds of millions of pounds in investment, thousands of jobs for locals, and the status of the first country in Europe to have spaceports on its territory.
And, of course, launch vehicles are needed to get satellites into orbits. That is why the third priority area of UKSA is to support private aerospace startups. Today there are two of them in Britain – the Scottish Orbex Space and Skyrora. In addition to private funding, companies receive millions in grants to develop their launch systems.
Orbex has a Prime ultralight launch vehicle with a payload of 150 kg. Skyrora Ltd has a three-stage XL, which will launch payload up to 315 kg into orbit. Both rockets are created using the latest technology with 3D printing and low-toxic fuels. These are new generation vertical launch systems, ideal for fast and cheap delivery of small satellites and CubeSats into orbit. The first launches of Prime and XL are expected as early as 2022 and will most likely take place at UK spaceports. At this stage, UKSA is actively working to create a regulatory framework governing launches from British territory.
In addition to British launchers, the agency works closely with foreign ones. In particular, the American Lockheed Martin and Virgin Orbit received funding to organise launches from the UK. Lockheed is expected to represent Rocket Lab with its Electron vertical launch rocket. Virgin Orbit, which uses air-launch technology, will launch from UK Space Agency sites at small British airports.