UKSA studies launched at first IOSM Conference

10th May 2024
UKSA studies launched at first IOSM Conference

The UK Space Agency announced on 8th May nine new initiatives and three commissioned studies (plus two more in the offing!), to further encourage innovation, and better the government’s understanding of the future value and desired capabilities for the UK space sector, and its place in delivering capabilities. Orbital Today looked into the initiatives in a separate article; here we focus on the UKSA studies.

Orbital Today would in particular like to thank UK Space Agency and the organisation’s Head of Space Sustainability, Ray Fielding, for taking the time to speak with us.

The announcements were made at the inaugural UK IOSM conference, jointly organised and run by the UK Space Agency and Satellite Applications Catapult, at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. The UKSA studies encompassed three major areas.

IOSM sector studies

One announcement included the award of an independent, government-commissioned study into the “health and size” of the global IOSM sector.

The Agency revealed that to date, 30 per cent of all funding allocated under the National Space Innovation Program has been awarded to manufacturers or operators working on in-orbit service and manufacturing (IOSM) companies and projects.

UKSA Head of Space Sustainability Ray Fielding told Orbital Today, that the new study, officially titled ‘The Future Opportunities in the Space Sector’, will look at “what the market might be worth, what the timeline for said market might look like, and also what the Government can do to help the sector through the lever it can use – regulation.”

Fielding said that for the IOSM sector alone, estimates for the worth of a mature market can range from US$5 billion to US$300 billion. “So we need to draw a line in the sand and get a more definitive idea through an independent review”, he said.

“And that review will be shared with everybody, with the public, so everyone can better understand these matters too.”

Another separate study was also commissioned by the government, to better understand and develop a realistic roadmap for IOSM capabilities specifically from a UK perspective. 

Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation Andrew Griffith said together, “these are both fundamental evidence-gathering exercises to inform future funding in this area, and key to ensuring the future IOSM market is sustainable.”

Next-level-level impact thinking

Following recent concerning reports, the Agency awarded a third study to the University of Southampton to investigate the potential impact of satellites burning up upon re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, otherwise known as ‘atmospheric ablation’.

Additionally, the Agency launched an invitation to tender for the next phase of its Active Debris Removal (ADR) mission, and congratulated Astroscale and Clearspace for their contributions to date.

Future UKSA studies

To expand on this, Fielding told Orbital Today that under this next phase, the UK Space Agency is going to fund two further studies in “an open competition” to assist the government to “understand the technical risks which may be prevalent in the national mission”, and “refine the costs”, so that it can present to government “robust evidence” for the use-basis of such missions.

“This next phase will help really drive down and understand the costs of what a national mission might be to the UK, to allow us to make a decision: do we go forward with a full national mission proposal and fund the full mission costs through to the design, building, and flying stages.”

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