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UK space tech projects raise £2M, Rolls-Royce space reactor also gets a chunk

Rolls-Royce Space reactor

The UK Space Agency has recently announced a £2 million investment to support 13 innovative space-tech projects. This expressed its commitment to the research and development of exciting, practical and innovative projects that aid in space exploration and resource utilisation.

The news comes at the height of the British Science Week (11-20 March), which aims to inspire interest in and celebrate science, engineering, technology and maths for people of all ages.

“As we celebrate British Science Week, I am pleased to announce this £2 million package to support 13 new projects for the UK’s brilliant scientists and engineers to help us make significant strides in space exploration and discovery.” the Science and Innovation Minister, George Freeman, was quoted.

Tech for sustainable space exploration

Leia Hybrid Qualification raised  £421,000, grabbing the largest share of the invested amount. Led by MDA UK and Harwell Space Cluster, LEIA secured its grant to develop further its LIDAR, which is used to provide a 3D map for spacecraft landing on the Moon as well as spacecraft rendezvous and docking. Their technology is also suited to meet the needs of the emerging commercial space market and will be a fundamental component for a new generation of companies, providing payload delivery services to the Moon over the next few years.

Rolls-Royce space reactor

Utilising its 60-year nuclear expertise, Rolls-Royce is developing a uniquely deployable, safe, and autonomous Micro-Reactor for use in the space domain. This saw Rolls-Royce gather the second largest portion, securing £249,000, to support the research and development process. The technology being developed is equally suited for use on Earth, supporting the government’s net-zero climate objective. This is in a bid to accelerate human exploration of the solar system and beyond, providing continuity of power for critical operations.

Other key investments were in water purification systems, new deep-drilling concepts, dynamic radioisotope power conversion technology, and infrared imaging technology led respectively by the University of Southampton, the University of Glasgow, the University of Leicester and Open University. Space production technologies, as well as water/oxygen extraction tech, was a key area of investment as well, led by institutions such as TAS-UK and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which is part of UK Research and Innovation.

The UK as a lead influence in space exploration

The UK has played a leading role in space exploration, having invested £180 million in the European Space Agency’s global exploration programme. Through Airbus, the UK is leading on the Sample Fetch Rover, which will play a vital role in the joint NASA/ESA Mars Sample Return mission and notably support international efforts to return humans to the Moon. The UK is also supporting international efforts to return humans to the Moon, with its space industry expected to build parts of the Lunar Gateway, a new space station that will orbit the Moon, providing a key stepping stone for human and robotic expeditions to the lunar surface.

“The support of the UK Space Agency has been instrumental in enabling the continued progress of the Rolls-Royce Micro-Reactor development programme,” said Abi Clayton, Future Programmes Director, Rolls-Royce. “This shows the true value of public and private partnership as we bring together the space domain experience of the UK Space Agency with our own unique nuclear expertise. Together we can achieve ambitious technological firsts for the UK as we develop the power systems of the future.”

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