The Satellite Applications Catapult Disruptive Innovation for Space Centre (DISC), based at Harwell Campus, opened up in December 2019 following OxLEP securing £3million for the project via the government’s Local Growth Fund.
With a further total of £2.8million match and enabled funding also secured for the project, the centre now provides access to equipment and expertise to UK industry, to accelerate the development of innovative new products and services.
This includes access to end-to-end design, modelling, test and production equipment in a collaborative engineering environment, to help companies develop new solutions for large-scale market opportunities. The facilities are open to industry and academia and provide equipment that is frequently out-of-reach to small or medium sized companies to accelerate their innovation and growth.
The Satellite Applications Catapult is one of a network of UK technology and innovation companies which aim to drive economic growth through the commercialisation of research, with an aim to support UK industry by accelerating the growth of satellite applications and to contribute to capturing a 10% share of the global space market predicted by 2030.
The Satellite Applications Catapult is working to achieve this by exploiting the innovation potential in the UK industrial and academic communities, by being a focal point where small and medium enterprises, large industry and end users can work together with researchers to challenge barriers, explore and develop new ideas, and bring these to commercial reality.
It has also been responsible for supporting and launching a vast number of businesses set to revolutionise the space industry, with a whole range of specific specialisms including access to space, geospatial intelligence, intelligent transport solutions and even diagnostic solutions to a host of healthcare issues.
The Satellite Applications Catapult is a key industry player in connecting industry and academia to get research off the ground, offering access to partnerships, data, innovation space, commercialisation support and a whole host of innovative projects.
UK space-related organisations produced £16.5 billion in income in 2019/20 and is a growing sector too with employment in the UK space industry going up by 6.7% from 44,040 in 2018/19 to 46,995 in 2019/20.
Lumi Space is a UK-based company aiming to become one of the first in the world to develop a ground-based laser tracking system to pinpoint small objects in space, to improve space traffic management and reduce the risk of space debris collisions.
Commercially-available precision Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) is set to improve space sustainability by allowing satellite operators to track their payloads to avoid congestion and collisions. This could then enable novel applications, such as active debris removal, or guide in-orbit servicing and the refuelling of satellites.
Supported by Innovate UK, Lumi Space turned to the Satellite Applications Catapult to produce metal retroreflectors and to conduct long-distance testing of laser ranging hardware. Validating their solutions in relevant environments, Lumi Space has opened the door to new funding and commercial opportunities.
The Satellite Applications Catapult supported Lumi Space with their grant funding application for Innovate UK’s EDGE SME Growth Fund, providing commercially viable access to prototyping equipment at DISC and expertise to produce metal retroreflectors in the Westcott Innovation Centre.
Novel approaches to Satellite Laser Ranging were tested onsite at Harwell in collaboration with the Satellite Applications Catapult, with the results showcasing the system is scalable to orbit and paves the way for a global unique service. The support concluded in a new product for market – with an increased Technology Readiness Level (TRL) from TRL 4 (component lab testing) to TRL 6 (demonstrating system in a relevant environment).
In 2021, Lumi Space was also awarded a grant through the National Space Technology Programme (NSTP) from the UK Space Agency (UKSA), to further develop the UK’s capabilities in precision space surveillance and tracking.
With support from the Satellite Applications Catapult, Lumi Space has made vital progress in their innovative approach to Satellite Laser Ranging and validation process, which will ultimately yield critical benefits for the satellite industry on a global scale and promote the sustainable management of near-Earth orbits.
Operating from Harwell Campus, home to the largest space cluster in Western Europe, the impact generated by the Satellite Applications Catapult and the trailblazing businesses and projects it supports offers a fine example as to the world-leading presence of Oxfordshire – and far, far beyond.