UK to invest £1.5m in space defence technology

Harry Lye 24 September 2019 (Last Updated September 24th, 2019 17:05)

The UK Government has announced it is pumping £1.5m into shortlisted projects from Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (Dstl) competition to improve ‘resilience, awareness and capability in space’.

UK to invest £1.5m in space defence technology
The UK is investing heavily in a number of space technology programmes. Credits: Airbus.

The UK Government has announced it is pumping £1.5m into shortlisted projects from Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (Dstl) competition to improve ‘resilience, awareness and capability in space’.

Out of the 60 companies that registered bids in the ‘Space to Innovate’ competition, 12 projects will receive funding.

In competition documents, the Defence And Security Accelerator (DASA) said: “The space environment is becoming increasingly congested and contested. Satellites are becoming smaller and are being launched more frequently.

“This creates many challenges as well as opportunities for defence and security.”

In response to this challenge, the technology under development covers a range of space systems from threat warning and detection to communications systems.

The competition presented four challenges for the UK: technologies for defending future UK space assets, ‘novel sensing and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) enablers, characterisation of objects in space and their intent, and overcoming the technical issues of ‘Space to Sea Level’ optical communications.

Defence Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan announced the funding at the UK Space Conference, in Wales, saying: “It’s vital we harness the ideas of the brightest and best innovators to improve the UK’s resilience and awareness in space.

“Faced with growing threats to UK interests, programmes like those selected today will boost our intelligence capability and help us stay ahead of our adversaries.”

Funding for the projects is coming from Dstl and the UK Space Agency intending to offer a ‘boost the surveillance capability of UK satellites and identify potentially hostile actors in space’.

Demonstrators from the competition will be shown at a demonstration day expected for summer next year where the government will award more funding for successful projects to be further developed.

Dstl chief executive Gary Aitkenhead said: “Our role at Dstl is to provide innovative solutions, underpinning science and technology to access the best space has to offer for defence and security, but also to protect our interests against growing threats.

“I am delighted that the competition has unearthed a breadth of UK expertise from a good mix of industry, academia, and SMEs. And I welcome the UK Space Agency’s investment which will ensure that the civilian market will also benefit”

The funding comes amid a recent push for further development of UK space-based assets, which has seen the UK establish a team to launch and control a small satellite constellation, £6bn set aside to develop SKYNET 6 and a £70m contract for QinetiQ to develop satellite receivers.

Projects that won funding from the government include an Oxford Space Systems project to change the radio frequency signature of satellites to confuse attackers, an MDA space and robotics system to warn satellites of incoming threats and a University of Warwick project that will use infrared sensors to classify objects in low-earth orbit.

The full list of funding recipients includes MDA Space and Robotics, Oxford Space Systems, University of Strathclyde, Harwell Associates Limited, University of Warwick, Fraunhofer UK, Teledyne e2v, VEOWARE, mBryonics, and QinetiQ. Two other companies have been awarded funding, although they have yet to be announced pending final contract discussions.