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UK to play major role in Moon, Venus and Mars missions

16 February 2024

The UK Space Agency has announced a new round of funding towards pivotal international space exploration projects. 


The Space Science and Exploration Bilateral Programme will help Royal Holloway develop software for the Indian Space Agency (ISRO) Chandrayaan-2 orbiter to detect ice under the surface of the lunar south pole. 

The work by Royal Holloway will support ISRO’s ongoing Chandrayaan programme, which began in 2003 and has been making ground-breaking steps in developing our understanding of how we may be able to use lunar resources for deeper exploration of the Moon. In August last year, its Chandrayaan-3 mission became the first in the world to land successfully on the lunar south pole. 

Another project will see the University of Leicester lead on a Raman spectroscopy instrument for iSpace’s commercial rover and lander missions investigating water ice on the Moon, helping us to understand whether this is a resource that could be used for longer-term lunar exploration. 

The iSpace commercial mission will see experts at the University of Leicester lead the development of the Raman spectroscopy instrument – which helps analyse and identify molecules – that will support the Japanese programme to establish resource utilisation infrastructure on the Moon that could benefit future lunar exploration missions.

Other projects to receive a share of the £7.4 million funding include the Open University and universities of Sussex, Aberdeen and Cambridge teaming up with NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). 

The announcement coincides with the Global Space and Technology Convention (GSTC), taking place in Singapore this week to showcase the rapidly growing sector in Asia and opportunities for international collaboration. 

These projects, alongside a UK delegation at the GSTC, highlight how the UK supports its world-class scientists to work with partners around the world as set out in the National Space Strategy.

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “From exploring water on Mars and the possibility of sustained human activity on the red planet, to how galaxies evolved over time, our more than £7 million investment is pushing the boundaries of space discovery and putting the UK at the heart of some of the most important global space missions. 

“With top UK universities from Sussex to Aberdeen leading these groundbreaking endeavours, our country is at the heart of exploring beyond our planet, working with partners in Japan, India, North America and around the world, and growing our economies.”

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “These projects present an opportunity for UK science to make crucial contributions to ground-breaking global missions that will deepen our understanding of the Moon and our neighbouring planets. 

“This funding, which builds on previous early-stage awards, will help catalyse international investment into the UK space sector and highlights the value we place on sharing knowledge and expertise with our counterparts overseas to break the boundaries of space exploration.”

The projects, which have already received a total of £400,000 following an initial funding round, all demonstrate both UK scientific excellence in critical areas of space science and exploration technology – such as detector and hardware development, pipeline processing, optics and spectroscopy – and opportunities to work closely with international counterparts including support for mission candidates making progress in similar areas. 

These initiatives are seeking to develop space science instruments that will help us better understand our Universe and Solar System. 

The UK Space Agency is supporting UK contributions to international space missions with funding from the Space Science and Exploration Bilateral Programme. 

The programme is providing important new opportunities for the UK to partner with space agencies around the world on groundbreaking science missions. 

It has already invested in the Japanese space agency’s LiteBIRD and NASA’s HelioSwarm missions currently in development, enabling UK scientists and engineers to participate in landmark missions to make globally significant discoveries in space science.

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