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UK Government looks to fund satellite comms for broadband and 5G

British innovators working to revolutionise 5G and broadband coverage for every corner of the UK could be in line to secure up to £160 million from a scheme to deliver the next generation of high-tech satellites, Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan announced today.

Image courtesy Department for Science, Innovation and Technology

LEO satellites represent the next generation of space technology, offering unparalleled resilience and resistance to disabling attempts.

Their vital importance was demonstrated during Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, when they ensured continuous and reliable connectivity, even in the most challenging circumstances.

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The Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit scheme (CLEO) would build on the Uk's established and growing satellites industry by providing UK researchers and businesses with critical support to drive the development of new constellations. This would include supporting smarter satellites with better hardware, using AI to make data delivery faster and connecting satellites together for improved connection – all creating interconnected networks serving billions worldwide.

The proposed scheme would ensure UK businesses are supported in developing the next generation of low Earth orbit satellites, driving the UK’s thriving satellite industry towards global leadership.

The development would mark the UK’s most significant ever investment in satellite communications, enhancing the UK's potential to become global giants of the satellite industry while creating hundreds of highly skilled jobs.

This package would be complemented by a range of live 5G integration projects such as the 5G testing facility at ESCAT in Harwell, Oxfordshire, aiming to establish networks in underserved and remote areas, bringing high-speed internet and connections to every single part of the UK, while addressing a major priority to improve Future Telecoms, as laid out in the government’s Science and Technology Framework.

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said: "Tackling the digital divide is at the heart of empowering our citizens wherever they live, and by investing in the vital research and development that CLEO would facilitate, we can level up our country while growing the economy through high-quality jobs.

"This proposed record investment is also potentially a huge opportunity to harness our reputation as a world leader in innovation and R&D investment, supporting leading UK businesses to deliver the next generation of satellites and positioning the UK as true space superpower."

To propel the UK’s capabilities and long-term ambitions in the space sector, the government is exploring grant funding of up to £100 million.

The government is also exploring whether to support this grant funding with an additional £60 million from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) UK-backed Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) programme, which supports UK industry in delivering commercial satellite communications infrastructure. The scheme would establish UK in the vanguard of many critical areas for the next generation of LEO satellite communication technologies such as AI and machine learning. 

CLEO would aim to deliver the R&D needed to support the launch of hundreds of satellites into space, revolutionising the UK’s communication infrastructure and closing connectivity gaps.

Harshbir Sangha, Missions and Capabilities Delivery Director at the UK Space Agency, said: "Today’s announcement is a vital step towards the delivery of a key priority of the UK Space Agency – to maximise the potential of low Earth orbit and become a global leader in next generation satellite communications technologies by building our ability to service future high-volume constellations.

"Our intent is to catalyse investment, build on existing capabilities and meet the challenges associated with seizing a significant share of a fast-moving global market, by leveraging our growing national space programme and leading investments in commercial ESA programmes such as ARTES.

This announcement follows the reintroduction of the government’s National Space Council, as part of the UK’s mission to become a true space superpower. Co-chaired by the Science and Defence Secretaries, the Council is responsible for coordinating government policy on space and ensuring that the UK is well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the space sector to drive job creation and grow the economy, one of the Prime Minister’s 5 key priorities.

 

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