Strathclyde one of 23 space technology projects funded by UK Space Agency

The moon in space

A Strathclyde space study is one of 23 ground-breaking projects that could boost UK leadership in new space technologies and applications around the world.

The Enabling Technologies Programme (ETP) provides opportunities for the UK space sector to accelerate the development of leading-edge technologies that could be used to tackle global problems and benefit the work of space organisations internationally.

The University has been awarded £250,000 for the ‘HyperNav’ project, which  aims to develop a novel technique combining hyperspectral technology - which enables us to detect what our eyes can't see - with machine learning to determine the motion of space objects. HyperNav will enable future debris removal operations and in-orbit servicing of critical space assets.

Space debris

Orbital congestion created by space debris is one of the biggest global challenges facing the space sector.  Space debris can stay in orbit for centuries and present a real danger to the rapidly increasing number of new satellites being launched each year which provide vital services, including communications, banking and monitoring climate change.  

Principal Investigator Dr Jinglang Feng, from the Aerospace Centre of Excellence (ACE), in Strathclyde’s department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, said:

HyperNav is an exciting project which will integrate hyperspectral technology and AI, to enable a spacecraft to see and approach a space object under any illumination conditions.

“We will build a research lab to mimic the spacecraft motion and onboard sensor to test our technique, together with Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd and the Hyperspectral Imaging Centre at the University of Strathclyde.

“We will also explore the commercialisation roadmaps and opportunities together with Infinite Orbits Ltd.”

Professor Massimiliano Vasile, director of the Aerospace Centre of Excellence, said: “Without proper technological and regulatory solutions we will soon be unable to access space. Space sustainability is one of the strategic priority areas of ACE, and HyperNav will introduce an important enabling technology towards in-orbit servicing and active debris removal, two essential capabilities to mitigate ensure the future sustainable use of space.”   

Weather prediction

Other projects from academia and industry to be awarded funding from a total of £4 million - made up of £3.2 million from the UK Space Agency with £800,000 contributed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) - include exploring how space can be used more efficiently for purposes such as weather prediction.

Dr Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said: “Space science and technology has never been more important to life on Earth. The Enabling Technologies Programme demonstrates how our work at the UK Space Agency is empowering scientists and engineers in universities, companies and research institutes to develop new capabilities and advance the technologies of tomorrow.

“From the use of space data for weather predication and flood monitoring, to new methods of propulsion and in-orbit servicing, these new projects are great examples of how we can harness the power of space to protect our planet and people.”

Support from the ETP fund is key to addressing project barriers in research and development, bringing high value space technologies to market that can create jobs and benefit people, businesses and communities for generations to come.