£1.5m programme to help British businesses lift-off

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A £1.5 million programme to give innovative businesses across the UK the chance to send their projects into space has been announced by the Science Minister Jo Johnson.

Tech companies across the UK will compete to take part in the In-Orbit Demonstrator (IoD) programme, run by the government’s innovation agency Innovate UK and the Satellite Applications Catapult, designed to give businesses working on new satellite technologies the unique chance to test their products in orbit.

With 40% of the world’s satellites produced in the UK, satellite technology is a fast growing sector responsible for everything from providing superfast internet connections to remote and hard to reach places, to tracking illegal fishing and analysing the best places to sow crops.

But for many small and start-up businesses, being able to test the products that they have been working on in order to demonstrate their uses is a real barrier to success – preventing them from securing deals and hindering their prospects for growth and job creation.

This new competition will give businesses the chance to bolt their products on one of four satellites funded through the Satellite Applications Catapult Programme, and fully test them to make it easier for businesses to then take them to market.

Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said: “Tim Peake may have captured the nation’s imagination as the UK’s first official astronaut, but up and down the country there are innovative businesses which have been leading the way in the UK’s space sector for many years.

“These new satellites will prove that the next generation of space technology developed in the UK works in space, and help those businesses secure customers and investment, create jobs and grow their business.”

Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult, said: “The growing importance of space technologies is leading to evermore impact on our lives on Earth. This IoD pilot programme therefore offers a great opportunity for the whole UK space industry, and marks another major milestone on its continued journey and ambition to become a global player in the sector.

“We’d strongly encourage any payload and platform technology providers to attend our workshop on 28 April, taking place at our offices in Harwell, at which we’ll be detailing the commercial and technical selection criteria for the four payloads with the Mission Plans and how to participate in the programme.”

Tim Just, Head of Space at Innovate UK, said: “Over the coming months through a competitive process, we’ll be working closely with the Catapult centre to identify appropriate payloads and missions for this programme and build on our first in orbit demonstration mission – TechDemoSat-1. There has already been strong interest from several potential payload providers, and we’re looking to broaden this opportunity further. We expect the first mission to be launched in approximately 12 months.”

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Notes to editors:

The £1.5 million collaborative research initiative will build upon the UK’s in-orbit demonstration heritage (i.e. UKube-1 and TechDemoSat-1), extend partnerships with “New Space” companies, and offer flight-proven CubeSat platform solutions and regular launch opportunities from the International Space Station (ISS).

Innovate UK is providing funding for the four satellite platforms and associated launches. Clyde Space, a UK SME, is delivering the CubeSat platforms, while the deployment will take place from the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) on the ISS. NanoRacks LLC will also provide launch and integration services, made possible by the Company’s NASA Space Act Agreement with the US National Labs. The £1.5m budget will also cover upgrading of the Catapult’s ground station with new equipment at Goonhilly in Cornwall. This is expected to boost local business and achieve cost savings for this project and future UK-led missions.

Looking further ahead, the programme will demonstrate if it can help deliver long-term benefits to UK business innovation and economic growth.