UK Space Agency provides GBP20m to fund aerial connectivity and telecommunications projects

The UK Space Agency is providing GBP20 million to support the development of future telecommunications technologies and aerial connectivity projects, which would be used onboard drones or high-altitude platforms to provide wireless coverage. The announcement was made by the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Chloe Smith.

Companies can bid for the funding to develop innovative aerial services and technologies that will support a range of industries, for example drones delivering medical supplies to hospitals, providing dedicated connectivity for emergency services or bringing internet access to rural areas.

The Technology Secretary unveiled the support during a speech at the opening of the European Space Agency’s state-of-the-art new conference centre at the Harwell Space Cluster, in Oxfordshire, which is home to over 100 space organisations employing more than 1400 people.

Technology Secretary Chloe Smith, said: “From using drones to quickly get medicines to hospitals, through to boosting mobile network access in remote areas, the benefits of aerial connectivity cut through many aspects of our lives. The Government’s £20 million investment will further strengthen the UK’s fast-growing satellite communications industry, which already contributes more than £10 billion to our economy and supports over 26,000 jobs. It will improve our health and security, too, and support our plan to level up every part of the UK.”

Industry can submit applications under three themes: Drones; High-Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS); and High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE).

Projects could include developing connectivity for aerial platforms with hybrid capabilities that can seamlessly switch between satellite and terrestrial networks, or traffic management for innovative vehicles such as electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, or ‘flying taxis’.

The funding is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunications Services (ARTES) programme. Future telecommunications is one of five critical technologies identified by the government in the UK Science and Technology Framework, and the UK is a leading investor in ARTES, having committed GBP190 million to the programme in November 2022.

The announcement came at the opening of a new conference centre at the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT), named after former ESA director and head of ECSAT, Magali Vaissiere. The facility will serve as a rallying point for the UK space community, reinforcing existing ties and fostering new partnerships within Europe and beyond. The UK Space Agency contributed GBP7 million to the project.

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(From left: Meganne Christian, Reserve Astronaut and Exploration Commercialisation Lead for the UK Space Agency, Nick Appleyard, Acting Head of Establishment for ECSAT, Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA, Chloe Smith, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Magali Vaissiere, former Director of ESA’s Telecommunications Activities and Head of ECSAT, Lord David Willetts, Chair of UK Space Agency and Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive Officer UK Space Agency. Credit: ESA/Max Alexander)

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