The UK Space Agency has identified 11 critical technology areas to strengthen the country’s position in the space sector and enable further collaboration with international partners such as NASA, ESA and Japan’s JAXA.
The technologies are detailed in the agency’s newly released Space Exploration Technology Roadmap, which will serve as a guide for research, development and future funding decisions over the next decade.
The overarching aim of the roadmap is to help the UK take full advantage of the increasing commercialization of space exploration and the global space economy, which is estimated to be worth US$1 trillion (€897 billion) by 2040.
“We are entering a new era of space exploration where governments and commercial operators are working more closely together than ever before,” said the space agency’s CEO, Dr. Paul Bate.
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“By defining this roadmap, we are bringing clarity to industry and researchers across the space sector and positioning the UK as the preferred partner for future space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”
Autonomy and AI are listed as priorities for increasing mission capability and efficiency. For example, autonomous navigation can allow spacecraft to explore distant planets and moons without the need for human intervention. The technology is also considered crucial for commercial satellites in low-Earth orbit.
Another focus is space nuclear power. It is expected to serve as a reliable source of energy on the lunar surface to sustain life and facilitate construction as humans return to the moon and build the infrastructure they will need to travel to Mars.
Other technologies include: advanced manufacturing; communications and missions; in situ resource use; life support and crew performance; navigation and sensors; Drive; Robotics; rehearsal curation; and scientific instrumentation.
The roadmap also includes a number of existing projects that are part of Britain’s plan to become a space superpower. A notable example is Lunar Pathfinder, a satellite developed and operated by Surrey Satellite Technology, which will provide communications services around the moon as part of ESA’s Moonlight project.
The 11 technologies are in line with the UK National Space Strategy’s aims to boost and improve the country’s space industry – which has had a strong funding year so far. According to VC firm Seraphim Space, UK companies saw the world’s third-highest investment in space technology between the second quarter of 2022 and the second quarter of 2023, at US$311 million.