UK Space Agency announces funding to extend satellite life and tackle space debris

News, Space
Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing facility, Westcott Space Cluster. Image shows the robot tracking equipment, with a target satellite and the Airbus VISPA robotic arm. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space 

The UK Space Agency has announced funding for work that aims to prolong the life of satellites, as part of efforts to ensure that space remains sustainable for future generations. 

The package includes a £2 million upgrade to the Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM) facility at the Westcott Space Cluster in Aylesbury. The facility will provide unique capabilities in the UK where companies can verify, validate and demonstrate a range of in-orbit operations including manufacturing, servicing, inspection, repair and assembly. 

In addition, almost £1.5 million is going into feasibility studies on refuelling satellites in space, to extend their life and reduce the amount of space debris. 

There are now around 37,000 pieces of space debris in orbit measuring more than 10 cm, and an estimated one million pieces sized 1-10 cm. With increasing numbers of satellites being launched, the UK is taking leadership on this global issue, claims the government.

Says Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology:

“Tackling space debris and maintaining ease of navigation in space is vital to allowing future exploration and protecting the everyday services we all rely on, from location and financial services to weather forecasting and broadband.  

“To ensure that long-term sustainability, we are funding new technologies for satellite refuelling, and upgrading this important national facility at Westcott to help bring innovations to market faster, in turn growing our economy.” 

The UK’s IOSM facility at the Westcott Space Cluster will become the first in the UK capable of verification, validation and demonstration of in-orbit operations. 

The upgrade will support the growing IOSM sector within the UK, providing access to the large-scale equipment needed to replicate orbital conditions and flight dynamics. This includes expanding the core capabilities to enable dynamic tracking, real-time positioning, a gravity off-load system, and enhancing the orbital simulation environment.

The in-orbit simulation robots will benefit from increased digital twin capabilities, which act as a proxy for the space environment and enable testing in the virtual world. 

Chris Price
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