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by Sofia Villegas
07 November 2023
UK Space Agency announces funding for ‘vital’ space preservation research

Space debris has become a key challenge for the sector | Alamy

UK Space Agency announces funding for ‘vital’ space preservation research

UK Space Agency announces funding for ‘vital’ space preservation research

The UK Space Agency (UKSA) is allocating funds to studies researching potential refuelling systems for the national space debris removal mission.

Planning to launch the mission in 2026, the agency hopes it will extend satellite life expectancy and prevent the space environment from deteriorating further, improving the industry’s future capabilities.

Feasibility studies looking to discover how to refuel a commercial satellite will also be able to access a share of the £2m fund.

With over 130 million space object debris becoming an “increasing threat to the satellite economy”, the mission has become “vital” for the long-term sustainability of the industry, said UK science minister George Freeman.

“Millions of pieces of space debris and 3,000 redundant satellites pose an increasing threat to the satellite economy we now rely on daily – from telecomms to navigation, air traffic control and climate science.

“UK businesses like Astroscale and ClearSpace developing in-flight refuelling, maintenance and other satellite servicing are key to reducing space debris, boosting space resilience and ensuring a vibrant space service economy.”

Launched in 2018, ClearSpace was selected by the European Space Agency to lead the first mission to remove in-orbit debris by 2025.

In 2021, the UKSA also chose the organisation to develop a feasibility study to remove and refurbish two objects from low earth orbit. The study is now in its review stage, after completing its design phase last month.

Richard Lowe, co-chair of UKspace in-orbit service & manufacture working group, said:  “Satellites provide huge economic benefit for people here on Earth – but they’re currently limited to one tank of fuel. In-orbit refuelling is a key technology that can extend the life of satellites. It can also enable the development of more capable infrastructure in space and help us to reduce in-orbit debris.

“This investment paves the way for space services that deliver even more value than today in a much more sustainable way.”

The programme adds to the UKSA’s range of initiatives working towards the long-term sustainability of the space environment, which include projects on space surveillance and tracking.

The announcement also comes ahead of the two-day UK Space Conference in Belfast later this month. The event will bring international space stakeholders together to discuss ideas and partnerships to empower the space sector.

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