• Satellite Evolution Group

SPRINT awards funding for new collaborative space technology and research projects


The national SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) business support programme has awarded grants to three new UK space research projects following a national challenge led sandpit event held in Wales in May.

This particular sandpit event, which was held in Cardiff, Wales, was aimed at developing proof of concept (POC) project ideas and feasibility studies to resolve industrial challenges, set by large space sector organisations.

The grants are awarded to Smallspark Space Systems, 4 Earth Intelligence, PolyChord Ltd, Field Reactors Ltd and Interstellar Space Technologies Ltd. The funding will enable the SMEs involved to collaborate with the University of Leicester, the University of Bristol, Cardiff Metropolitan University and University of the West of England.

The three new collaborative projects will receive UK Space Agency funding of approximately £10,000 each to enable them to progress their ideas and further develop and validate the proposed solutions. The projects will address reducing black carbon emissions in solid hydrocarbon fuels for use in hybrid rocket engines, processing passive radar to advance maritime remote sensing, and intercepting debris items and boosting them to a safe orbit.

Dr Rain Irshad, Head of the national SPRINT programme said: “We are delighted with the ongoing support provided by the UK Space Agency, which has enabled us to fund these impactful projects which aim to address key challenges in the industrial space sector.

“The funds will enable the SMEs to actively engage with the SPRINT programme and benefit from the expertise of leading academics, whilst also gaining access to facilities, applications and technologies to bring their innovative projects to fruition.”

Christopher Mcquire, Head of Local Growth at UK Space Agency, said: “We are pleased to work with the SPRINT programme and provide our support to these three projects, all of which showcase the diversity of space sector expertise in the UK and align with key goals within the National Space Strategy.

“As the commercial use of space increases around the world, it is critical that we work towards sustainable solutions to address challenges such as carbon emissions and space debris. We look forward to seeing the results of these projects as they develop.”

The three new projects funded by SPRINT are:

Smallspark Space Systems with the University of Leicester Project: Reducing black carbon emissions in solid hydrocarbon fuels for use in hybrid rocket engines using nanomaterial additives The UK has set a clear target of decarbonization and aims to achieve Net Zero for the Aerospace sector by 2050. The recent development of hybrid propulsion technology at SmallSpark have shown great promise for safe and reliable launching but there is an urgent need to reduce the environmental impact, i.e., the emission of black carbon particles. The reduction of black carbon emission also means more efficient combustion and thus a reduced overall mass of fuels needed for launching, and therefore a higher payload mass fraction.

This project aims to provide a solution by incorporating nanoparticles into the bespoke solid fuel to improve the energy efficiency and reduce the emissions of CO2, NOx and particular matters.

4 Earth Intelligence and PolyChord Ltd with the University of Bristol and Cardiff Metropolitan University Project: Passive Satellite Radar for Maritime Applications The Earth is constantly illuminated by spaceborne radio signals emitted from a plethora of satellites, with over 2,000 satellites in the Starlink constellation alone.

Many of these are part of dedicated Earth Observation missions, but also include passive signals from other sources such as satellite TV and telecommunications networks. These involve large constellations of emitters sending out radio waves at radar bandwidths that could be used for remote sensing applications.

This project will assess the feasibility of developing and optimising a system to process passive radar from these sources to advance maritime remote sensing and identify other wide-ranging applications.

Field Reactors Ltd and Interstellar Space Technologies Ltd with University of the West of England Project: Sustainable Space Debris Recycling The problem of space debris is of increasing concern as it poses a real danger to spacecraft and astronauts and could make low Earth orbits unusable within decades. This project will introduce and investigate the idea of a ‘space tug’ powered by a novel electric thruster, which would intercept debris items and boost them to a safe orbit or to an orbiting in-space recycling and manufacturing facility, and bringing out its usability and a potential case for future.