Aerospace & Defence

Science and technology projects wanted for UK space mission

20th February 2024
Paige West

Up to £15 million commercial funding could be made available for British science and technology to fly to space.

Two new funding opportunities have been announced, focusing on science and technology demonstrations, in anticipation of an agreement to send a team of four British astronauts on a mission that could potentially include a trip to the International Space Station under commercial sponsorship.

With the funding for these projects contingent upon the mission's progression, the UK Space Agency is inviting scientists, innovators, and businesses to propose projects now, aiming to optimise the mission's benefits in the short term.

Andrew Griffith MP, the Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, highlighted the significance of these opportunities: "There is huge potential for UK businesses to play an increasingly important role in space exploration and the development of new technologies.

“The £15 million funding calls mark a significant stride in our collaborative mission with Axiom Space, and I urge the UK science and technology community to use this opportunity to drive forwards discovery and unleash innovation in critical technologies.”

This initiative follows the Memorandum of Understanding signed in October 2023 between the UK Space Agency and Axiom Space, which set the stage for a UK astronaut mission sponsored commercially, alongside an initial call for scientific and technological ideas.

Annelies Look, Deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency, expressed the goal of maintaining the UK's leadership in space science and technology through the collaboration with Axiom Space: "We want to keep the UK space sector at the forefront of scientific discovery and technological innovation, so this has been front and centre of our work with Axiom Space since October.

“To deliver the maximum potential benefits to the UK, we are opening funding calls for science experiments and technology demonstrators today, ahead of the potential UK astronaut mission.”

Dr Lucie Low, Chief Scientist for Microgravity Research at Axiom Space, said: “Axiom Space is delighted to support the UK Space Agency in its efforts to solicit impactful scientific and technological development projects that can advance the goals of human exploration of space, as well as bring benefit to citizens on Earth. Our Axiom Space missions to date have enabled researchers from across the globe to utilise the microgravity environment for national research and technology development priorities, and we continue to work together to secure sponsorships for this exciting mission.”

Science experiments and technology demonstrators

The science funding call aims to assist UK-based researchers in conducting scientific research in microgravity and the space environment. Proposals from any research area are welcomed but are especially encouraged from fields aligned with the National Space Strategy, the UK Science and Technology Framework, and UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI) research priorities.

The technology demonstrator call seeks to advance the UK's exploration sector by testing innovative technologies in space. The UK Space Agency is particularly interested in technologies that align with the National Space Capability Goals, the UK Science & Technology Framework, and its five critical technologies, or that fit within the Space Exploration Technology Roadmap's categories.

UK astronaut Tim Peake, who spent six months aboard the International Space Station in 2015/16 and now plays an ambassadorial role for Space, praised the progress: “The recent Ax-3 mission set a new bar for what commercial human spaceflight can achieve, with important science carried out by the four European astronauts over the course of the more than two-week flight, from research into cancer prevention to studies of plasma physics and botany.

“It’s fantastic to see the UK Space Agency taking advantage of this new era of commercial human spaceflight and working with Axiom Space and the European Space Agency to put a real focus on high-quality science and innovative technology for the potential UK mission.”

Kevin Craven, CEO of ADS said: “The UK space sector is a world-leader in a rapidly expanding global space economy, with long-term investment critical to allowing our industry to focus on the development of cutting-edge capabilities. ADS encourage companies from throughout the space value chain to engage with the latest developments. The UK has long been known as a hub of technological innovation in leading science and technology – long may that continue as we take our technology, quite literally, to new heights.”

The UK Space Agency, in collaboration with Axiom Space and fully supported by the European Space Agency, is advancing plans for this commercially-sponsored mission.

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