The UK Space Agency has launched a new £2.6m fund to develop high-tech projects to assist the NHS in tacking the coronavirus pandemic.
The fund has been earmarked for projects such as satellite communications and drone technology which could be developed to help overcome challenges such as delivering test kits, masks, gowns and goggles, managing infectious disease outbreaks and supporting the nation’s health and wellbeing.
Funding scheme developed with European Space Agency
The funding scheme has been jointly developed with the European Science Agency (ESA).
Nick Appleyard, Head of Downstream Business Applications at ESA’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications in Oxfordshire, said: “Even in normal times, satellites and space technology offer solutions to our needs in connectivity and inclusion, in resilience and logistics, and to support healthcare provision in even the most extreme situations.
“The current circumstances challenge the space business community to show just how much it can offer, to help us through this a once in a century event. The current circumstances challenge the space business community to show just how much it can offer, to help us through this a once in a century event. Speed is of the essence, so let us act without delay.”
Space sector can apply innovations to NHS
Government Science minister Amanda Solloway added: “From new advanced software helping speed up cancer diagnoses to satellite communications connecting GPs to patients virtually, the UK space sector has been world leading in applying its innovations to supporting our brilliant NHS.”
“This new funding will ensure that the latest innovations will be on the frontline of tackling the unique problems the coronavirus outbreak has created, helping medical staff to focus on delivering world-class care.”
Professor Tony Young, the NHS national clinical lead for innovation, said the service was working hard to tackle the pandemic but was also looking to innovation outside of the health service to support care.
He said: “This is a global crisis that would overwhelm any health service on earth without strong action from the public and their public services, which is why the NHS is looking to industries across the world – or indeed from out of this world – for new and exciting innovations that could help improve the care we provide to patients or help the NHS respond to this pandemic.”
Space-enabled solutions could include satellite communications, satellite navigation, Earth observation satellites or technology derived from human spaceflight.
UK continues to be leading member of ESA
The UK continues to be a leading member of ESA, which is independent of the EU, having committed a record investment of £374 million per year in November 2019. This funding to support the coronavirus response comes from ESA’s Business Applications Space Solutions fund, which the UK is the leading investor in.
Space is already playing an important part in healthcare with UK start-up Lanterne recently announcing the launch of a free app to help people observe social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus, using GPS satellite data and AI technologies.
Last year the UK Space Agency provided £5 million for new health technologies inspired by working in space to support NHS England. These included providing real-time diagnosis of bowel cancer, developing more compact 3D X-ray machines and a mobile app that provided exercise plans free from air pollution for those with medical conditions such as asthma.