The UK Space Agency is providing £2 million in funding for research on refuelling a mission that aims to remove space junk. Space junk refers to any human-made debris left in the Earth’s orbit, with experts estimating that there are millions of pieces of debris larger than one centimetre and hundreds of thousands that are larger than ten centimetres. These objects pose a constant threat to operational satellites due to their high-speed orbits.
The funding is specifically targeted towards projects that can extend the lifespan of satellites, which would help address the growing problem of debris in Earth’s orbit. The aim is to conduct feasibility studies that demonstrate the capability to refuel a UK national debris removal mission while also exploring opportunities for refuelling commercial satellites.
George Freeman MP, the Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology, highlighted the urgency of taking action against the increasing danger posed by space debris. He emphasized that millions of pieces of space debris and thousands of redundant satellites threaten the satellite economy that supports vital sectors such as telecommunications, navigation, air traffic control, and climate science.
The £2 million program by the UK Space Agency aims to develop methods for refuelling inactive satellites in space. Companies like Astroscale and ClearSpace are working on in-flight refuelling, maintenance, and satellite servicing, which are integral to minimizing space debris, enhancing space resilience, and promoting a thriving space service economy.
The refuellable removal mission is scheduled to launch in 2026. The UK Space Agency is seeking support from UK organizations to assist with the mission and further capability development. Richard Lowe, co-chair of the UK Space In-Orbit Service & Manufacture (IOSM) working group, highlighted the importance of in-orbit refuelling as a technology that can extend the life of satellites, enable the development of more advanced infrastructure in space, and help reduce in-orbit debris. This investment is considered a step towards providing space services that offer even greater value in a sustainable manner.