New government funding for innovative solutions to tackle the growing problem of potentially hazardous space debris, has been announced today.
There are an estimated 900,000 pieces of space debris larger than 1 cm orbiting the Earth, with only a small proportion of them tracked.
The UK Space Agency is providing up to £1m for organisations to come up with smart solutions to this problem by using cost effective ways to monitor objects in low Earth Orbit, or applying artificial intelligence to make better use of existing orbital data.
Tracking debris allows satellite operators to predict possible collisions so that they can manoeuvre them out of harm’s way. One collision could create thousands of small, fast-moving fragments which can damage the satellites that provide everyday services such as communications, weather forecasting or satellite navigation.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “From artificial intelligence to advanced tracking systems, the UK space industry is leading the way in developing ground-breaking solutions to worldwide problems.
“Today’s funding will enable businesses to develop cutting-edge innovations to combat the growing amount of space debris orbiting the Earth – helping protect vital services like communications, weather forecasting and satellite navigation.”
The UK is committed to the international effort to clean up space debris as the largest investor in space safety for the European Space Agency, including a substantial £10 million commitment to the ADRIOS (Active Debris Removal/In orbit servicing) programme. Later this year, Harwell, Oxfordshire, will host the operations centre for the ELSA-d satellite clean-up and decommissioning programme led by Astroscale.
Dr Alice Bunn, International Director, UK Space Agency, said: “We want the UK to be at the forefront of a new era of space where we continue to push boundaries while ensuring the growth is sustainable for all.
“Space debris is a global problem and this funding will enable UK companies to develop new methods to help tackle the issue. Growing our space surveillance and tracking capabilities will be crucial for UK space businesses to innovate safely and sustainably in the future.”