Pioneering Oxford space company gets government cash boost

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An Oxford-based company has been awarded more than £50,000 of UK Space Agency funding to develop technology that will make it easier to monitor waste and mineral sites, reducing the risk of long-term environmental damage.

Oxford-based Spottitt, together with project partners Oxfordshire County Council, will explore the technical and commercial viability of a low cost, fully automated monitoring service for waste and mineral sites using satellite imagery.

Current processes rely almost entirely on physical site visits to monitor activity and changes. Satellite monitoring offers a more cost-effective and accurate alternative that can ensure site activities are more frequently monitored, reducing the risk of long-term environmental damage. The project will first monitor waste and mineral sites in Oxfordshire with a look to ultimately roll out the system globally.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “This investment will help UK space businesses fast-track innovative technologies with real scientific and commercial potential, supporting our aim for the UK to secure 10 percent of the global space market by 2030.

“From observing climate change from space to protecting our satellites from hazardous space debris, these technologies could expand our reach in space and improve life here on Earth.”

Lucy Kennedy, CEO at Spottitt, said: “The team was thrilled to be chosen to receive this funding by the UK Space Agency. It has meant that we could quickly take many steps forward with an innovative satellite monitoring application that help’s Oxfordshire County Council and local authorities in general to remotely monitor minerals and waste activities on a weekly basis.”

Since launching in 2011, The National Space Technology Programme has supported 300 projects. Other successful projects in this funding round include Rocket Engineering in London, who is working with Harwell Campus-based Magdrive to create a compact propulsion system, the size of a house brick, for small satellites. The engines use electromagnets to enable the satellites to move more efficiently for applications such as in-orbit spacecraft servicing or space debris mitigation. Another recipient is the University of Leeds, which will develop 3D printing methods and liquid-crystal technology, similar to that in our television screens at home, to develop far-infrared sensors for studying climate change and star formation.

Charles McCausland, Head of Major Projects and Technology Development, UK Space Agency, said: “The UK Space Agency has a strong track record of backing early-stage technologies with future potential, and these five projects promise to pave the way for further space innovation.

“As the UK extends its ambitions for the space sector, early support of this kind could prove decisive in helping us get ahead in an increasingly competitive global environment.”

The UK has a thriving space industry that generates an income of £14.8 billion each year. The UK Space Agency works closely with industry and academia to fund new technologies, boost skills, promote growth and inspire careers in the space sector as the UK recovers from the Coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement comes during British Science Week (5th – 14th March), a 10-day programme of thousands of events running throughout the whole of the UK with the aim of celebrating science, engineering, technology and maths, coordinated by the British Science Association and funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).