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Government gives £1 million to space debris projects


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Over £1 million has been awarded to seven UK led projects using new sensor or artificial intelligence technology to track debris in space.

The UK Space Agency, Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have announced the investment, saying it contributes to the UK’s opportunity to benefit from megaconstellations of satellites.

In addition, the Space Agency and MoD have signed a formal agreement to work together on monitoring hazards in orbit.

They have estimated that there are approximately 160 million objects in orbit – mainly debris – which could collide with satellites.

Projects receiving support include Lift Me Off, supported by a number of institutions, which is aimed at developing machine learning algorithms for in-orbit detection and classification of satellites and space debris using a combination of space based sensors and AI.

Fujitsu has received backing for an initiative – shared with Astroscale, the University of Glasgow and AWS – to develop a proof of value to make space debris removal missions more commercially viable using its open innovation technology.

LEO surveillance

The Deimos project is focused on the design and prototyping of a low cost LEO (low Earth orbit) optical surveillance sensor, along with software systems to control and process the images.

D-Orbit UK has received funding to exploit a new capability to enable routine, targeted, space based LEO space surveillance and tracking observations using its ION Satellite Carrier Vessel.

NORSS involves industrial research to rapidly design and deploy a low cost prototype optical camera system to track object in low Earth orbit.

Two further projects are yet to have their funding confirmed: Lumi Space is working on photonic technologies for ranging and characterisation of space objects; and Andor is focused on detection of low Earth orbit debris of smaller sizes.

Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency said: “People probably do not realise just how cluttered space is. You would never let a car drive down a motorway full of broken glass and wreckages, and yet this is what satellites and the space station have to navigate every day in their orbital lanes.

“In this new age of space megaconstellations the UK has an unmissable opportunity to lead the way in monitoring and tackling this space junk. This funding will help us grasp this opportunity and in doing so create sought after expertise and new high skill jobs across the country.”

Image by skym4k3r, public domain

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