UK’s $2.5bn research targets space sensors and hypersonic technology

LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense has identified a series of key future technologies in which it plans to invest $2.5 billion over the next four years, officials said June 7.

The program, called the Science & Technology Portfolio, will aim to support the development of critical future military capabilities beyond the next generation, the Department of Defense said in a statement. Efforts include the development of a hypersonic weapon demonstrator, new space capabilities, expanded research into artificial intelligence, advanced materials and nuclear submarine systems.

The government has said it will spend £2bn by 2026 as part of its total £6.6bn ($8.3bn) research and development budget set out in the strategic review of 2021.

The British military’s research arm, the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, or Dstl, released its list of priorities for the spending plan earlier this week. It includes information on 25 portfolio programs that are expected to attract significant funding and collaboration opportunities for industry and academia.

“Notably, this portfolio emphasizes science and technology toward key capability challenges and high-risk, generation-after-next research in emerging and poorly understood technologies,” reads a statement from Dstl.

Defense officials pointed to a collaborative space program Dstl is conducting with the US Naval Research Laboratory to illustrate its ambitions for the portfolio approach.

The Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction Cubesat Experiment (CIRCE) — a suite of miniature space weather sensors aboard two cereal box-sized satellites — is set to launch later this year.

The mission will see three British-developed sensors, as well as sensors supplied by NRL, installed on two Blue Canyon Technologies 6U satellites to collect space weather data.

The two Project CIRCE satellites are set to be launched alongside other payloads from a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket mounted on the wing of a Boeing 747-400.

It would be the first ever satellite launch undertaken from the UK

The plane will likely be piloted by Royal Air Force Pilot Squadron Leader Matthew Stannard, who once served on a Virgin Orbit mission launching satellites from a base in California earlier this year.

The British miniature sensors were developed for Dstl by University College London, the University of Bath and Surrey Satellite Technology.

The sensor arrays will monitor changes in the ionosphere – a layer of Earth’s atmosphere about 30 to 600 miles above the surface – where variations in the environment can interfere with the operation of GPS, communications and detection technology.

Andrew Chuter is the UK correspondent for Defense News.

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