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New government fund launched to encourage business investment in satellite tech

£15 million will be made available to firms through a competition, as research suggests investment could yield a 1,080% ROI

A technician in the cleanroom explains details about the Eutelsat Quantum satellite, to a crowd small crowd as they all stand in a cleanroom

The government has announced a £15 million competition to support UK businesses looking to enter the satellite communications market.

Companies that are developing technologies throughout the satellite sector will be eligible for the fund, submissions for which run until Spring. This includes those seeking to create satellite constellations of their own, to firms with designs for ground systems and software services to support low-earth orbit (LEO) networks.

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The fund will be provided through the UK Space Agency’s role in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunications Services (ARTES) programme.

Although the UK is no longer an EU member state, it is still a member of the ESA, and contributes approximately €420-450 million annually. For the period running January 2020 to December 2024, the UK has committed €2.1 billion, and 19% of this is to be spent in the form of contracts to 255 UK businesses.

The government claims that for every £1 million invested in the ESA across this period, the UK can expect a return of £11.8 million “over time,” a 1,080% return on investment, according to In its executive summary. It also estimates that each £1 million of investment delivers 9.8 person years of employment, with 47,000 people currently working in the UK space sector.

It is hoped that increased innovation across the sector will lead to a range of improvements in the UK and worldwide, such as progress towards net zero by supporting solutions such as Google Earth Engine, as well as through research and development of new hardware to reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, satellite communications networks carry security benefits, which could make them less susceptible to attacks on critical national infrastructure (CNI) and keep networks running in the case of natural disaster.

The ESA’s Telecommunications and Integrated Applications (TIA) directorate is working to extend the reach of 5G, consolidating the role that satellites can play to fulfil demand for communications networks, and providing consistent connections for use cases such as internet of things (IoT) devices.

“There are a series of important programmes on the table and I want to harness opportunities in space to grow the UK economy, create jobs and inspire young people into STEM careers,” stated science minister Nusrat Ghani.

"We’re also making new funding available now to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in the satellite communications market, and I look forward to seeing the results of the competition.”

Through the ARTES programme, the ESA launch geostationary satellites developed by UK-based firm Airbus into orbit, where they will operate internet and communications services. The UK Space Agency has claimed it could see a 2,000% return on investment through the programme.

Satellite connectivity is a rapidly-expanding market, with competition amongst firms already increasing. With companies such as SpaceX and OneWeb currently leading the pack, there is also growing interest from governmental bodies such as DARPA in the potential for communications networks facilitated by LEO satellites. Satellite broadband could also turbocharge rural business connectivity, providing fast and stable internet to communities currently underserved by the rollout of 5G and fibre.

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