- Space debris is a major threat to the satellite services we rely on
- 13 projects involve industry and universities across the UK
The UK Space Agency is providing £1.7million for new projects to support sustainable space operations, Science Minister George Freeman announced today.
The 13 new projects will help track and clear hazardous debris in space. They include an AI-based tool that can take autonomous action to avoid a collision and another that will see several small spacecraft fired at debris before blasting it into the atmosphere to dispose of it.
Science Minister, UK Space Agency CEO Paul Bate and representatives from the UK space sector met at the Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire to discuss the sustainable future of the space environment today (Monday 31 January).
Orbital congestion created by space debris is one of the greatest global challenges facing the space sector. There are currently around 330 million items of space debris, including 36,500 objects larger than 10cm, such as old satellites, worn-out rocket bodies and even tools dropped by astronauts in orbit around Earth.
Space debris can remain in orbit for hundreds of years and pose a real danger to the growing number of new satellites launched each year that provide vital services including communications and monitoring climate change.
Science Minister George Freeman said:
Like the debris on Everest, the first generation of space exploration and satellite launches left behind millions of dangerous satellite fragments and 4,000 redundant satellites in orbit.
As our reliance on satellites for daily activities increases and the UK becomes a hub for the design, manufacture and launch of small satellites via Virgin Orbit in Cornwall this year, this debris now poses a serious threat to our £16 billion space sector.
That’s why we’ve made debris mitigation and removal — and the long-term importance of space sustainability — key parts of our National Space Strategy.
These projects will help put the UK at the forefront of protecting the space environment for future activities and accelerating UK technology leadership.
The UK’s National Space Strategy has set out a bold vision for the sector and recognizes the need for the UK to lead the way in making space safe and sustainable. The new funding supports the development of underlying technologies or data processing capabilities for space surveillance and tracking to support orbital debris clearance.
Over the past two years, the UK Space Agency has provided £2.7 million to UK industry and universities to develop new space surveillance and tracking (SST) and disposal technologies. debris, as well as investing around £16 million in space sustainability through the European space. Agency in 2019.
The UK is the largest contributor to ESA’s space security programme. This new funding comes from a joint appeal by Space Surveillance and Tracking and the UK Space Agency’s National Space Technology Programme.
John Auburn, Managing Director of Astroscale Ltd and Co-Chair of the IOSM Working Group, UKspace, said:
We must act now to build UK capacity with the right level of UK investment; improved UK regulation and policy; supply chain development and international partnerships. The In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM) Task Force, part of UKspace, is made up of over 65 members.
This growing group is advancing a common vision to gain the first market advantage as a leader in in-orbit servicing and manufacturing. We must accelerate our efforts to ensure a safe and sustainable space environment and see it as a natural extension of the Earth environment. This will help protect vital services, including those that monitor climate change, weather forecasts, disaster management and digital services for citizens, and ensure that we can provide them for generations to come.
In 2021, the UK Space Agency worked with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to support the next stage of international efforts to promote the sustainability of space and funded research for a mission led by the UK to remove waste from space.