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by Sofia Villegas
09 February 2024
UK Space Agency announces multi-million pound funding to re-fuel space sustainability

UKSA has announced new funding for space sustainability research | Alamy

UK Space Agency announces multi-million pound funding to re-fuel space sustainability

The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has announced a new £3.5m funding package to prolong the life of satellites.

Part of the money will be awarded to a facility at the Westcott Space Cluster to help it become the first in the UK able to verify, validate and demonstrate in-orbit operations.

The Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM) facility will receive £2m for the upgrade.

It will support the British IOSM sector by providing access to the large-scale equipment needed to replicate orbital conditions and flight dynamics. This includes expanding its core capabilities to enable dynamic tracking that will enhance the orbital simulation environment.

In turn, the in-orbit simulation robots will benefit from increased digital twin capabilities, allowing for testing in the virtual world.

Lucy Edge, chief operating officer at Satellite Applications Catapult, which owns the IOSM facility, said: “IOSM is predicted to be worth £11bn globally by 2031, and the UK has the expertise to capture at least 25 per cent of this market.

“To achieve that, it’s critical that the UK’s IOSM companies have access to infrastructure to test their technologies and operations under mission conditions.

“Our new upgraded facility offers exceptional IOSM testing capabilities and supports the Catapult’s goals to grow the entire space industry in the UK.”

An additional £1.5m will be invested in feasibility studies working to tackle the space debris crisis.

Solving this environmental issue will be “vital” to continue space exploration, UK space minister Andrew Griffith said.

To date, there are 37,000 pieces of space debris in orbit measuring over 10cm and around one million sizing up to 10cm.

The three studies will demonstrate the ability to refuel the UK national debris removal mission and explore opportunities for refuelling a commercial satellite. Contracts have been awarded to Astroscale, ClearSpace and Orbit Fab.

…what is their research about…

 Astroscale will adapt its existing ‘COSMIC’ debris removal spacecraft to a new refuelling servicer product.

To do so it will partner with TAS, Airbus Defence & Space, Orbit Fab and GMV.

Set to launch in 2026, COSMIC will harness capture capabilities to remove two defunct British satellites currently orbiting Earth.

ClearSpace will work on an extension to their existing ‘CLEAR’ debris removal mission, named ‘REFUEL.ME,’ and will have support from Orbit Fab, Satellite Applications Catapult and Know.space.

ClearSpace was already awarded over £2.2m by UKSA in 2022 to conduct the design phase of this mission.

Orbit Fab will leverage their Rapidly Attachable Fuel Transfer (RAFT) Interface and the Grappling and Resupply Active Solution for Propellants (GRASP) to develop the ‘RAFTEA’ mission with help from MDA, ClearSpace, D-Orbit, and BryceTech.

RAFT Was developed for the transfer of fluids in space and GRASP aims to secure links between spacecraft during the docking and refuelling stages

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