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by Sofia Villegas
20 February 2024
Multi-million-pound funding calls launched to support international space mission

The International Space Station | Alamy

Multi-million-pound funding calls launched to support international space mission

New multi-million-pound funding calls have been announced ahead of a potential international space mission.

The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has announced two funding calls, one for the science and the other for the tech sector.

The cash opportunity of up to £15m aims to gather innovative ideas to support a commercially sponsored mission with US company Axiom Space.

Should the proposed mission go ahead, a team of four British astronauts will fly to space, potentially to the International Space Station. 

Andrew Griffith, UK space minister, said: “There is huge potential for UK businesses to play an increasingly important role in space exploration and the development of new technologies. 

“The £15m funding calls mark a significant stride in our collaborative mission with Axiom Space, and I urge the UK science and technology community to use this opportunity to drive forward discovery and unleash innovation in critical technologies.”

Scientists will design and execute research which uses microgravity and the space environment. Proposals are encouraged to align with the goals of the National Space Strategy (NSS), the UK Science and Technology Framework, and research priorities from UK Research and Innovation.

NSS goals include to “protect and defend” UK interests “in and through space”, and to lead on “pioneering scientific discovery”.

UKSA has said it is interested in technology that supports the goals of the National Space Capability, the UK Science & Technology Framework's five critical technologies, which include AI and quantum technologies, or that falls under the agency’s Space Exploration Technology Roadmap categories, which include life support and crew performance.

Each sector could receive a maximum of £9m.

Annelies Look, UKSA deputy chief executive, said: “We want to keep the UK space sector at the forefront of scientific discovery and technological innovation, so this has been front and centre of our work with Axiom Space since October. 

“To deliver the maximum potential benefits to the UK, we are opening funding calls for science experiments and technology demonstrators today, ahead of the potential UK astronaut mission.”

Today’s announcement follows the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the UKSA and Axiom Space in October 2023, which outlined the plans to pursue a commercially sponsored UK astronaut mission.

UK astronaut Tim Peake, who spent six months on board the International Space Station in 2015-16, said:  “The recent Ax-3 mission set a new bar for what commercial human spaceflight can achieve, with important science carried out by the four European astronauts over the course of the more than two-week flight, from research into cancer prevention to studies of plasma physics and botany.”

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