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Government backs UK companies tackling dangerous space junk

Christian Fernsby |
Seven UK companies have been awarded a share of over £1 million to help track debris in space.

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Seven pioneering projects which will develop new sensor technology or artificial intelligence to monitor hazardous space debris, have been announced by the UK Space Agency.

The UK Space Agency and Ministry of Defence have also announced the next step in their joint initiative to enhance the UK’s awareness of events in space.

Estimates of the amount of space debris in orbit vary, from around 900,000 pieces of space junk larger than 1cm to over 160 million orbital objects in total. Only a fraction of this debris can currently be tracked and avoided by working satellites. The UK has a significant opportunity to benefit from the new age of satellite megaconstellations vast networks made up of hundreds or even thousands of spacecraft so it is more important than ever to effectively track this debris.

Projects backed today include Lift Me Off who will develop and test machine learning algorithms to distinguish between satellites and space debris, and Fujitsu who are combining machine learning and quantum inspired processing to improve mission planning to remove debris.

Two companies, Deimos and Northern Space and Security, will develop new optical sensors to track space objects from the UK whilst Andor, based in Northern Ireland, will enhance their astronomy camera to track and map ever smaller sized debris.

D-Orbit UK will use a space-based sensor on their recently launched satellite platform to capture images of space objects and couple this with Passive Bistatic radar techniques developed by the University of Strathclyde.

Finally, new satellite laser ranging technologies will be researched by Lumi Space to precisely track smaller space objects.

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