UK Space Agency to invest £20m in aerial connectivity projects


According to the government, funding could cover everything from high altitude platform stations (HAPS) to delivery drone management technology

This week, the UK Space Agency has announced £20 million in funding aimed at supporting the development of aerial connectivity projects.

Companies can submit applications for funding under three categories – drones, HAPS, and High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned air vehicles.

Projects could include, but are not limited to, “aerial platforms with hybrid capabilities that can seamlessly switch between satellite and terrestrial networks, or traffic management for innovative vehicles such as electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft”.

Possible applications include drones delivering medical supplies, the rapid deployment of dedicated emergency services communications, and delivering broadband connectivity to rural customers.

“From using drones to quickly get medicines to hospitals, through to boosting mobile network access in remote areas, the benefits of aerial connectivity cut through many aspects of our lives,” said UK Technology Secretary Chloe Smith. “The Government’s £20 million investment will further strengthen the UK’s fast-growing satellite communications industry, which already contributes more than £10 billion to our economy and supports over 26,000 jobs. It will improve our health and security, too, and support our plan to level up every part of the UK.

The funding comes as part of the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Services (ARTES) programme, in which the UK is a major investor. In November 2022, the UK government committed £190 million to the programme, pledging to further develop the country’s growing satellite industry and promote the creation of new aerial connectivity technologies.

The first £50 million of this funding was made available to applicants by the government earlier in the year, targeting related projects in the satellite communications industry.

The UK is not alone in its interest in non-terrestrial connectivity. In related news, today the GSMA announced a new Memorandum with Understanding (MoU) with the ESA, aiming to explore greater collaboration between the satellite and mobile industries to better develop network technologies. The agreements initial focus will be on accelerating the integration of satellite communications with terrestrial 5G and, in the future, 6G networks.

“By collaborating more closely with the European Space Agency, and its satellite network operator ecosystem, we hope to accelerate the immense potential satellite and terrestrial telecommunications networks can create for consumers and businesses when they are more closely connected,” said Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer at the GSMA. “By working together, we can help the communications industry bring innovative solutions to market, which in turn will create tremendous benefits to society by connecting even more people, wherever they are in the world.”

How is the UK’s growing satellite communications industry reshaping the nation’s telecoms sector? Join the operators in discussion at this year’s Connected Britain conference

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