UK Space Agency announces £50m for next-gen satellite coverage

The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has announced £50m to fund UK satellite communications, including the development of new satellite constellations and the ground systems needed to access them.

The agency said projects could be integrated with 5G networks for upgraded infrastructure that enables new services such as drones, driverless haulage and space-based networks that could rival cable-based terrestrial ones.

Britain is currently the leading non-US manufacturer of satellites, with 47,000 people employed in its space industry and plans to develop multiple potential microlaunch sites, including two vertical launchpads in Scotland.

Companies receiving the new funding could help to pave the way for services that can provide better-quality connectivity in remote and hard-to-reach places; higher bandwidth; lower latency, and increased security.

The government has previously been warned that rural areas that cannot access superfast internet speeds will be left behind the rest of the country if this administration fails to ramp up its broadband infrastructure plans.

George Freeman, UK minister for space, said: “Developing UK space capabilities and maximising commercial opportunities are key to the National Space Strategy, as part of our plans to become a leading power in space and build on a sector already worth £16.5bn to the UK economy.

“We are determined to invest in our world-class satellite technology sector, which is why I committed £1.8bn for UK participation in ESA [European Space Agency] programs over the next five years and recently committed £190m specifically to participate in international telecommunications missions.

“This latest £50m UK Space Agency funding will help more companies into our vibrant, fast-growth, UK space telecoms sector, helping drive both growth and wider UK economic resilience.”

Despite Brexit, the UKSA committed in 2019 to contribute £374m a year to continue the country’s involvement in ESA.

The UK is also one of the leading investors in its programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES), having committed £190m to the programme in November.

ARTES aims to support the development of next-generation satellite telecommunication products in a bid to remain globally competitive.

UKSA CEO Dr Paul Bate said: “This funding will help UK companies that have the right expertise and ambition to become global players in this market and lead on ground-breaking technologies that will enhance the wider UK space sector, create jobs and generate further investment.”

In 2020, the UK government bought a stake in failed satellite firm OneWeb satellite, which aims to develop a network of more than 650 LEO satellites designed for internet services.

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