The UK Space Agency has announced over £50 million for UK companies to develop communication and navigation services for missions to the Moon.

The new funding is part of the European Space Agency’s Moonlight programme, which aims to launch a constellation of satellites into orbit around the Moon, from 2028.

This will allow future astronauts, rovers, science experiments and other equipment to communicate, share large amounts of data including high-definition video, and navigate safely across the lunar surface.

Missions to the Moon

The UK is one of the two leading international investors in the programme, alongside Italy, placing the UK space sector at the heart of this new frontier.

Independent research suggests more than 250 missions to the Moon are due to launch over the next decade alone, generating almost £90 billion in global economic returns and thousands of new jobs.

The UK space and satellite sector currently employs 47,000 people across the country and is set to grow further, with increased government support.

Industrial Strategy for Space

Minister of State in the UK Department of Science, Technology and Innovation George Freeman said: “Space and satellite science and technology are at the forefront of our Science Superpower mission, which is why we have set out a 10-year Industrial Strategy for Space to attract the billions of commercial investment now coming into this sector, already worth £16.5 billion to the UK economy.

“This new funding will help UK companies provide satellite services for the fast-emerging lunar communications economy for years to come, deepening our international collaborations through ESA, kick-starting the lunar economy and inspiring a new generation of scientists and explorers.”

NASA plans to send astronauts to the Moon in the coming years and, working with ESA and other partners, intends to put a new space station called the Gateway with living quarters for astronauts in lunar orbit. The UK space industry is making important contributions to the Gateway, including the refuelling module.

Reliable navigation and communication capabilities are essential for these missions, and others like it, to succeed, supporting a future sustainable human presence on the Moon. Creating a shared telecommunications and navigation service can reduce some of the complexity and reduce overall costs.

Telecommunication and navigation service

Companies involved in Moonlight will be able to create a telecommunication and navigation service for ESA, while being free to sell lunar services and solutions to other agencies and commercial ventures.

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This is an incredibly exciting time for space exploration, with the successful Artemis I mission paving the way for humanity’s return to the Moon in the coming years.

“These endeavours are more international and more commercial than ever before – and by playing a leading role in the ESA Moonlight programme, we are opening up significant opportunities for UK companies to build on their extensive expertise in satellite technology and benefit from the new lunar economy.”
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