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UK Space Agency announces £9M funding to develop satellite instruments to monitor climate

Picture credits: njaj/Depositphotos

The UK Space Agency has announced its largest investment of £9 million into an early-stage technology programme to enhance the UK’s Earth observation technologies and to improve how space is used to understand and protect the planet. 

Delivered by the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI), this funding will support 12 projects that will enhance the ability to monitor Earth’s atmosphere and measure critical emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen dioxide. This doubles the programme’s previous largest funding round.

The satellite instruments under development could give a clearer picture of where activities and incidents producing high levels of emissions, such as wildfires or inefficient farming techniques, are taking place, enabling decision-makers to coordinate more effective responses.

The Earth Explorers programme

Last month, ESA shortlisted two ambitious UK projects in the latest round of its Earth Explorers programme. These are dedicated to backing the satellite missions that will help positively influence climate science and the operational monitoring of the environment. Having received funding from the CEOI programme in the past, here are the details of these projects. 

The first one is Hydroterra+, which would be placed in geostationary orbit to give data twice a day on water cycles and tectonic events over Europe, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. The second one is Keystone, which would provide the first direct observations of atomic oxygen at 50-150 km altitude to help scientists examine the impact of solar cycles and space weather on particular regions of our atmosphere.

Upcoming missions include Biomass, which is being built in the UK by Airbus to provide crucial information about the state of forests and how they are changing.

Notably, the Earth Explorers programme includes missions such as the European-Japanese EarthCARE, due to launch later this month to improve the reliability of climate predictions and weather forecasts. EarthCARE has significant UK contributions from Airbus Defence & Space UK, Surrey Satellite Technology, Thales Alenia Space UK, RAL Space, Teledyne e2v, GMV-UK, Telespazio UK, CGI UK and several British universities.

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “This exciting new generation of satellite instruments, backed by £9 million in government funding, will play a key part in our efforts to tackle climate change, pinpointing where emissions are highest on our planet and cementing UK leadership in Earth observation, while helping to attract more private investment into this fast-growing sector.”

Beth Greenaway, Head of Earth Observation and Climate at the UK Space Agency, said: “Satellites play a vital role in monitoring emissions, weather patterns, and other environmental factors, using a variety of sensors and instruments that return information to Earth. Indeed, some of the information can only be collected from space. These new projects highlight the strength and diversity of UK expertise in both universities and companies across the UK – they are at the cutting edge of inventing the newest tools and techniques. The 16th CEOI call shows that we are ready to match the commitment of the UK space sector to ensuring the Earth observation capabilities stay at the forefront of the global demand.”

Nicolas Leveque, Director of the CEOI, said: “This additional funding from the UK Space Agency demonstrates its continued support for the development of high-end remote-sensing technologies. These technologies will fill many gaps in our observing capabilities and help us better understand some of the more complex processes driving the Earth’s climate and environment. This funding round will act as an accelerator, bringing the launch of new instruments forward by several years. We also welcome the responsiveness of the research, academic and industrial community, who have put together ambitious work plans to match the level of investment.”

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