UK companies awarded Govt funding to tackle dangerous ‘Space Junk’

Posted on 21 Sep 2020 by Tom Lane

The UK Space Agency and Ministry of Defence have announced £1m in funding to enhance the UK’s awareness of events in space.

Seven new pioneering projects will develop new sensor technology or artificial intelligence to monitor hazardous space debris. These projects will have a share of the £1m in funding made available by UK Space Agency and Ministry of Defence.

It is estimated that there could be up 160 million pieces of space junk larger than 1cm in orbit currently; however only a fraction of the debris can be tracked. The UK has a significant opportunity to benefit from the new age of satellite mega-constellations – vast networks made up of hundreds or even thousands of spacecraft – so it is more important than ever to effectively track this debris.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “By developing new AI and sensor technology, the seven pioneering space projects we are backing today will significantly strengthen the UK’s capabilities to monitor these hazardous space objects, helping to create new jobs and protect the services we rely on in our everyday lives.”

The investment will reportedly enhance the UK’s capabilities of being able to monitor space junk and help to avoid potentially dangerous collisions with satellites or even the International Space Station.

Two companies, Deimos and Northern Space and Security, will develop new optical sensors to track space objects from the UK, while Andor, based in Northern Ireland, will enhance its astronomy camera to track and map ever smaller sized debris.

Lift Me Off will develop and test machine learning algorithms to distinguish between satellites and space debris, and Fujitsu will combine machine learning and quantum inspired processing to improve mission planning to remove debris.

Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency said: “The funding coincides with the signing of a partnership agreement between the Ministry of Defence and UK Space Agency to work together on space domain awareness.

“This civil and military collaboration aims to bring together data and analysis from defence, civil and commercial space users to better understand what is happening in orbit to ensure the safety and security of UK licensed satellites.”

The full list of companies who have been awarded funding include: Lumi Space, Deimos, Lift Me Off, D-Orbit, Fujitsu, NORSS and Andor.