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October 9, 2019

UK space sector challenged to develop tech for International Space Station

By Lucy Ingham

The UK space sector is being invited to propose technology to be tested on the International Space Station (ISS) in a government-backed competition announced today.

The competition sees entrepreneurs invited to propose business ideas that can be tested on the ISS, with the winners set to get a share of the £1m matched funding from the European Space Agency’s Business Applications Space Solutions fund, via the UK Space Agency.

This will cover the cost of developing the projects, as well as providing the first space flight to take the test technology to the ISS.

The competition is open to proposals from across the whole spectrum of the UK space sector, with the UK Space Agency saying that winning concepts “could be anything from medicines and innovative materials developed in microgravity, to space-flown consumer products”.

Test projects are limited to a maximum size of a shoebox due to the nature of the testing spaces on the ISS, and can make use of onboard facilities, including power, data and temperature control.

The UK Space Agency also suggests that the weightless environment may be a good focus for projects as it “offers a great opportunity to investigate novel materials, life science R&D and new technologies”.

ISS competition to enhance entrepreneurship in UK space sector

The project is designed to enhance the commercial viability of the UK space sector, by encouraging greater entrepreneurship in the industry in a manner similar to previous NASA initiatives.

“The global space sector is changing rapidly and we want the UK to be at the forefront of the commercialisation of microgravity, as part of our vision to lead the new space age,” said Emily Gravestock, head of applications strategy at the UK Space Agency.

“This funding could help open up whole new markets, create jobs and growth here on Earth and attract investment to support future research and exploration activities.”

An increasing focus on the private space industry in the US has resulted in the rapid growth of the emerging commercial microgravity market, with applications such as niche manufacturing creating an estimated market value of over $110bn.

“Developments in space inspired technology have resulted in truly remarkable breakthroughs – from the hi-tech materials we use in engineering to examining cancer molecules within the human body,” said Science Minister Chris Skidmore.

“It is amazing to see our most innovative businesses and entrepreneurs tackling one of the UK’s greatest opportunities. For them, the sky is not the limit. The opportunity to test their pioneering projects in space will help ensure the UK remains a global science superpower.”

Read more: UK space industry braces for a no-deal Brexit