Space Sustainability Funding

| Transport

Initiative will re-activate satellites currently inactive as space debris (Image Courtesy of ESA)

The UK Space Agency is funding research into refuelling an upcoming mission to remove space junk

This could help prolong the life of satellites and prevent adding more debris to the space environment.

A total of £2 million is available for feasibility studies that can demonstrate the ability to refuel a UK national debris removal mission and look at opportunities for refuelling a commercial satellite as well.

Millions of defunct space objects are currently orbiting the planet – almost 37,000 measuring larger than 10cm and an estimated 130 million measuring less than 1 cm. These can be anything from old satellites to astronaut tools and even flecks of paint. The speed at which they travel means they are a constant threat to ‘live’ satellites.

One of the initiatives in the package is a UK national debris removal mission, planned for launch in 2026 and designed to be refuellable.

George Freeman MP, Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, says “This new £2 million UK Space Agency programme will help to develop ways to refuel inactive satellites in space and develop in-flight refuelling, maintenance and other satellite servicing.”

According to Richard Lowe, co-Chair of the UKspace In-orbit Service & Manufacture (IOSM) Working Group, satellites provide huge economic benefit for people but they’re currently limited to one tank of fuel. In-orbit refuelling is a key technology that can extend the life of satellites. It can also enable development of more capable infrastructure in space and help to reduce in-orbit debris.

“This investment paves the way for space services that deliver even more value than today in a much more sustainable way,” he concludes.

Jonathan Newell
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