The UK is aiming to join Portugal and Spain as a member of the Atlantic Constellation and is contributing a new pathfinder satellite designed and built by a UK-based company adding to the innovative Earth and coastal monitoring and data sharing network.
This new commitment, announced on the opening day of the UK Space Conference in Belfast, will further strengthen the UK’s national capabilities in Earth observation technology and complement the UK’s contributions to the EU Copernicus programme, European Space Agency and bilateral missions.
The UK Space Agency is providing £3 million to support the build of the new pathfinder satellite, intended to be one of the first in the Constellation, with co-funding from Open Cosmos, based on the Harwell Space Campus in Oxfordshire.
The Atlantic Constellation is a flagship, global project for the development of a constellation of small satellites for Ocean, Earth and Climate monitoring.
The satellite built in the UK will be of the same design and launched in the same orbital plane as 3 others from Portugal constituting the first batch of the constellation. This will significantly increase the frequency of revisit time at the beginning of the Constellation formation, offering valuable and regularly updated data, and supporting critical services such as the detection, monitoring and mitigation of natural disasters.
Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Andrew Griffith, said: “Earth observation will play an absolutely vital role in tackling global challenges like climate change and disaster relief, providing the data we need at speed, while supporting key UK industries like agriculture and energy. By working with Open Cosmos on a new satellite and supporting our Atlantic partners, Spain and Portugal, we can harness space tech for our shared goals, while creating new skills opportunities and jobs for the future to grow the UK economy.”
Open Cosmos is a growing company that has recently added a further two satellite missions to its OpenConstellation, successfully launched on 11th November and recently raised $50 million in Series B funding from leading impact investors to accelerate its international growth and expand its product offering.
Rafael Jorda Siquier, Chief Executive of Open Cosmos, said: “Building a shared satellite constellation is a very effective way of having high revisit diverse data over each region of interest. The UK joining Portugal and Spain in the Atlantic Constellation is a major step forward in the national EO strategy and we are very proud that Open Cosmos has been contracted to deliver the first UK pathfinder satellite.”
The UK Space Conference
The announcement comes as the UK Space Conference is set to open in Belfast, with the theme of Space for Our Future. The UK Space Agency will also unveil a package of 23 projects worth £4 million from its Enabling Technologies Programme and create a Rocketry Research, Training and Teaching (R2T2) Hub, delivering rocket science PhDs that support the growing UK satellite launch market.
Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “There’s no better way to open the UK Space Conference than by backing a new Earth observation mission and investing in the future workforce, with support for new rocket science PhDs. Space has been shaping our lives for decades but is set to become increasingly critical as we take the necessary steps to protect our planet, drive prosperity and push the boundaries of human knowledge.“That’s why we are focused on catalysing investment, delivering new missions and capabilities in areas such as Earth observation and the low-Earth orbit economy, and championing the opportunities that our growing space sector brings to people and businesses up and down the country.”
The UK’s pathfinder satellite contribution aims to join the Atlantic Constellation and increase the frequency of the revisit time in the first orbital plane by 33%, meaning more observations can be made of the same point on Earth. This will be a critical boost to one of the Constellation’s key ambitions of securing a high frequency of data provision to manage disaster relief.
The data access and provision policies for members of the Atlantic Constellation will shortly be established jointly with Portugal and Spain. During the first year of operations, UK users are expected to be able to task the satellite over an area of interest and benefit from higher-frequency data and shorter re-visit times over the UK.
The main applications of data from the Constellation will include disaster relief action, early detection of climate change indicators, increasing agricultural productivity and improving energy use.
Enabling Technologies Programme
The UK Space Agency has announced £4 million of funding for 23 projects from its Enabling Technologies Programme (ETP), that could boost UK leadership in new space technologies and applications around the world.
The programme provides an opportunity for the UK space sector to accelerate the development of leading-edge technologies that could be used to tackle global problems and benefit the work of space organisations 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).
The projects, from academia and industry across England, Scotland, and Wales, explore how we can use space more efficiently for purposes such as weather prediction, climate-change monitoring, and space debris removal through methods of propulsion, sterilisation, in-orbit servicing, imaging, and more.
Rocketry Research, Training and Teaching Hub
The UK Space Agency is investing £4.9 million in the creation of the R2T2 PhD Hub, which will secure 30 skilled PhD graduates in three cohorts of 10, with cohorts 2 and 3 partially funded by industry. The Hub will comprise of a network of universities from across the UK, enabling the sharing of expertise and resources. This is part of a package of skills interventions, designed to equip young people with the expertise and experience needed to be part of the UK’s growing spaceflight industry.
Matt Archer, Director of Launch, UK Space Agency said: “To achieve our ambition for the UK to be Europe’s leading provider of small satellite launch by 2030, we need a ready supply of skilled launch professionals. The Rocketry, Research, Training and Teaching Hub will help provide a new generation with the skills and knowledge necessary to support the UK’s small satellite launch market and enable further market expansion.”