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  • Writer's picturePhilip Day

Weekly UK Space Roundup 23rd July 2020

This week has been an historic one for the Space industry around the world, as two major space agencies prepare for Mars launches which we will report on in the next 7 days, and the UAE successfully launches their Hope mission atop a JAXA rocket.

The geopolitical situation has also been stirred up by Russia test firing a weapon in space, and the UK and USA working together to create defence business opportunity in space.

Let's dive into the detail.

Small Spark Space Systems Appoint Chief Technical Officer

A company that can't keep out of the news for all of the right reasons, Small Spark Space Systems of Cardiff, Wales have appointed Antonios Bouloubasis, previously of Leading Tech Developments, as their Chief Technical Officer as they continue to develop and grow their company rapidly throughout 2020. There is certain to be even more exciting news from this company as the summer progresses!

Anton is due to lead the technical side of the company through an incredibly rapid vehicle development and testing phase when he takes post full-time in September when he will draw upon his experience as an engineer with an automation and robotics background, as well as his honed project controls and management skills derived from stints as Head of Engineering, and CTO at his previous company.

Ministry of Defence awards Skynet Extension Contract to Airbus Defence & Space

Skynet is a secure military communications satellite constellation operated for the UK Ministry of Defence. Just one week after the RAF's Air & Space Power Conference 2020, the UK Government has awarded a $500m contract to Airbus Defence & Space to build the constellation's Skynet 6A platform in the UK, and testing it at Harwell's new premium National Satellite Testing Facility (See our article about the testing chamber).

This advanced satellite will sport electric propulsion and is due for launch in 2025, remaining in service until at least 2040.

Government Incentivises Business Through New Schemes

This week the Government has progressed two similar new schemes to create an incentive for business to engage in the UK Space Industry, the civilian scheme, and the first is called the Gravity 02 Challenge, and builds on the success of the Delloite-led competition which was successfully run in Australia last year. This year, the challenge is open to UK and Australian enterprises to post between 5 and 10 business problems that could be solved using space assets for the industry to compete for funding in generating and delivering a solution.

Entries for businesses are still open until the end of next week, so businesses should consider putting their problems to the experts as soon as possible! (Here's our article including the link to the registration website for companies and innovators alike).

Next year, for Gravity Challenge 03, the plan is to open the competition to a wider set of nations again, and further increase the reach of the scheme.

The Second, military, scheme has been announced in partnership with the USA. $1m USD has been set aside for businesses to bid for, in answering three military problems, very much in a similar style to the Gravity Challenge. The allies are hoping to encourage small and medium sized enterprises to come forward with ideas that could benefit from an injection of £53k to help in bringing a solution to market. Pitching day is set for mid-November (You can read our full article here including details on entering the competition).

Not to be out-done the UK Space Agency this week announced their £15m fund to encourage space innovation. This fund is designed to help projects which help to keep the UK are the forefront of space innovation whilst solving issues that have a global impact. Very much in the style of the Satellife competition for students that we reported on last week, but for industry partners to bring fully to fruition.

Russia Has Been Accused of Firing Weapons from a Satellite Platform in Space

Both the UK and the USA military today accused Russia of live-firing a weapon from a satellite in Low Earth Orbit, and cited both the huge risk to the peaceful use of Space, a condition of the Outer Space Treaty that all three countries have signed, and of creating unmanageable space debris, known as 'Kessler Syndrome' by destroying targets in orbit.

The Head of the UK Space Directorate, Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth called for Russia to continue to collaborate with the UK to "encourage responsible behaviour in space."

This is not the first time a country has been accused of using weapons in space, targeted at other space assets. In 2015, the USA and UK detected a similar anti-satellite test from a Chinese platform which gained wide-spread media condemnation. It is understood that the USA maintains the capability to destroy targets on orbit, although a live test is not believed to have been carried out.

Giant Leap this week issued an in-depth review of the lessons that commercial sub-orbital passenger flights can learn from the aviation industry. Why not check that out next? Oh and don't forget to subscribe!

Job of the Week

GMV Innovating Solutions are looking for a Python expert to work as a Machine Learning Engineer. Check out the job listing on UKSEDS' careers site: (

Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn to catch all of the recruiting opportunities that we find particularly exciting here in the UK.

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Thanks for checking in, and until next time remember that every Giant Leap is set up by thousands of small steps.

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