The Enabling Technologies Program (ETP) enables the UK space sector to accelerate the development of advanced technologies that can be used to tackle global issues and benefit the work of space organizations internationally.
The total government funding is £4 million – made up of £3.2 million from the UK Space Agency with £800,000 contributed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The projects from academia and industry investigate how space can be used more effectively for purposes such as weather forecasting, climate change monitoring, and space debris removal through methods of propulsion, sterilization, in-orbit servicing, imaging, and more.
Dr. Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:
Space science and technology have never been more important to life on Earth. The Enabling Technologies program demonstrates how our work at the UK Space Agency empowers scientists and engineers in universities, businesses and research institutes to develop new capabilities and advance the technologies of the future. From the use of space data for weather forecasting and flood monitoring to new methods of propulsion and in-orbit servicing, these new projects are great examples of how we can harness the power of space to protect our planet and people.
A project from the University of Glasgow is exploring how a spacecraft could consume its own body as fuel – to support scalable, cost-effective access in low Earth orbit.
Meanwhile, the University of Bristol is looking at using data from the UK-backed Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, aiming for an order or magnitude improvement in accuracy for global flood modelling.
Another, run by Oxford Dynamics, looks at how a long-range radar system could detect low-Earth-orbiting objects to support space debris containment operations.
Professor Grahame Blair, STFC Executive Director, Programmes, said:
We are experiencing an incredibly exciting time for the UK space industry. Thanks to initiatives such as the Enabling Technologies program, our space scientists are constantly pushing the boundaries of Earth observation, satellite communications and even manned space exploration, with countless benefits for society. STFC is proud to partner with the UK Space Agency to support the UK space science community and help strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in the space economy.
Support from the ETP Fund is key to addressing project barriers in research and development and bringing high-value space technologies to market that can create jobs and benefit people, businesses and communities for generations to come.
University of Southampton (£201,000) – Development of a sterilization method using non-thermal plasma to support human spaceflight and exploration.
University of Southampton (£102,000) – Development of Raman spectroscopy (which uses scattered light to measure vibrational energy of samples) to detect low-level biosignatures (matter that gives evidence of life) which will particularly support exploration of icy worlds, including The Moon and Mars.
Fraunhofer Center for Applied Photonics, UK (£240,000) – Development of a low SWaP light detection and ranging (LiDAR) instrument that can be mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support Earth observation.
Fraunhofer Center for Applied Photonics, UK (£247,000) – Development of low-cost, room temperature photon counting detectors that can be used for imaging, sensing and optical communication.
University of Manchester (£190,000) – Development of alternative locomotion techniques that extend the range and operability of extraterrestrial robotics to support future rover and exploration missions.
Imperial College London (£144,000) – Developing a new approach to magnetometer systems that reduces the need for booms on a spacecraft, helping to lower the cost of space science missions.
MDA Space and Robotics (£147,000) – Development of a new laser sensor to enable complex, vision-based missions in poor lighting conditions.
RAL Space (£233,000) – Development of a highly stabilized laser that can be used in low Earth orbit to support space weather measurements.
MDA Space and Robotics UK (£141,000) – Development of short-range, rotating LiDAR, more efficient in terms of size, weight and power, for use in planetary surface robotics.
Surrey Space Centre, University of Surrey (£250,000) – Development of a detector for high energy particles for use in solar or cosmic ray missions and to improve space weather forecasting.
University of Birmingham (£250,000) – Development of a new operational and technical capability to assess the health and condition of satellites from orbit using sub-THz radar imagery supporting in-orbit servicing capabilities.
University of Leicester (£183,000) – Development of sample instrument cases and portable sample containers to support rover and sample return missions.
Durham University (£159,000) – Development of a wavelength-tunable solar polarimeter (optical instrument used to determine polarization of light samples) to measure the Sun’s magnetic field over hundreds of kilometers deep in the second layer of the Sun’s atmosphere.
University of Hertfordshire (£100,000) – Project to significantly increase the dynamic range of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) imaging sensors in support of astronomy in collaboration with XCAM and the Open University.
University of Glasgow (£250,000) – Additive manufacturing material and process testing in a simulated space environment, enabling rapid, sustainable and cost-effective component qualification.
University of Glasgow (£290,000) – Pilot scale testing of an autophagic (self-consuming) propulsion system – whereby the spacecraft uses its own body as fuel – supporting scalable, cost-effective access to low Earth orbit.
Teer Coatings Ltd (£124,000) – Development of a new bimetallic doped, thin film MoS2 solid lubricant with long life, low coefficient of friction and stability under atmospheric conditions. An enabling technology for long-duration missions.
Oxford Dynamics (£194,000) – Development of a long-range radar system capable of detecting objects in low Earth orbit, which could support space debris containment operations.
Newton Launch Systems (£194,000) – Development of a nitrous oxide monopropellant thruster using induction heating as a trigger, with the aim of providing a solution for disposing of end-of-life satellites.
University of Bristol (£206,000) – Using data from NASA’s UK-backed Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission to improve order-of-magnitude accuracy for global flood modelling.
Orbit Fab (£228,000) – Development of an in-orbit refueling interface, using a gripper technique, to improve satellite servicing solutions supporting sustainable space operations.
University of Strathclyde (£250,000) – Development of a technique that combines hyperspectral technology (imagine using a broad electromagnetic spectrum) with machine learning to determine the movement of space objects, which can support active debris removal.
GMV (£250,000) – Development of a new distributed simulation environment using a robotic testbed with digital twins and cutting edge augmented reality to verify and validate IOSM operations. An enabling technology for in-orbit refueling and satellite service.