Innovation in the space industry takes off

Innovation in the space industry takes off

Innovation in the space industry takes off

Space technologies are taking off in the UK, alongside other emerging technologies like quantum computing. “I don’t think it’s possible to do full space research and space travel, if you will, without quantum technology,” says Simon Phillips, chief technology officer at Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC). “It’s just too much to calculate.”

“I think very soon, when we talk about space technology, it will always include quantum,” says Phillips. Enabling space technology to include quantum, he explains, involves “building systems on the ground that can process vast amounts of quantum information in ways we didn’t know were possible before.”

In the near term, quantum technologies could support space R&D efforts such as mission planning, materials discovery, and studies of how space travel affects the space environment. Solving the problem of space debris is an area that may seem trivial, but, as Phillips notes, “it’s actually a bit of a hassle.” Quantum, he explains, can model the removal of space junk “hundreds and hundreds” of years into the future.

In the longer term, quantum technologies could improve our understanding of how people can be affected by their time in space. “We have data on Mars, and we have data on humans, but we don’t understand the interaction between these environments,” Phillips explains. With the quantum, he says, “we could figure out how to protect people working in space,” which he sees as a critical issue.

Building a collaborative ecosystem of startups

As quantum computing applications in space continue to grow, the UK space startup ecosystem is also growing.

Space Forge, for example, is developing a manufacturing hub that will move in and out of Earth’s atmosphere. They will only produce goods in space that lead to a positive net home field advantage, Western says. He notes the various benefits of working in space, including a purified environment, lower pressure, extreme temperatures, and reduced carbon emissions. “You can go to plus or minus 250°C,” he says.

Meanwhile, radiation rays from the sun could be used for lithography in semiconductor manufacturing. Even though it sounds like something straight out of science fiction, “all of the technologies that are essential for this already exist,” says Western.

Lumi Space is another notable UK space startup. With support from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the UK Space Agency, Lumi Space is building the world’s first commercial satellite laser ranging service, which will enable safe and sustainable space exploration. Applications of its technology include collision avoidance, debris removal and constellation management.


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