Innovation begins in the space industry


Space technologies are taking off in the UK alongside other new technologies such as quantum computing. Simon Phillips, chief technology officer of Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC), said: “I don’t think there is a way we can do universal space exploration and travel without quantum technology, if you will. “Too many to count.”

“When we talk about space technology, I always think it’s too soon to add quantum,” Phillips said. Enabling space technology to include quantum “will involve building ground-based systems that can process more and more quantum information in ways we never knew were possible before,” he explained.

In the near future, quantum technologies may aid space R&D efforts such as mission planning, materials discovery, and studies of how space travel affects the space environment. Addressing space debris is a seemingly simple area, but as Phillips points out, “it’s actually a bit of a problem. Quantum says it can model the disposal of space debris “hundreds and hundreds of years” into the future.

Longer term, quantum technologies may advance our understanding of how humans can affect their spacetime. “We have data on Mars, and we have data on humans, but we don’t have an understanding of the interactions between those environments,” Phillips said. “We can work out how to protect people working in space,” he said, citing what he sees as a critical issue at Quantum.

Building a collaborative startup ecosystem

As quantum computing applications in space continue to grow, so does the UK’s space startup ecosystem.

Space Forge, for example, is developing a manufacturing hub that can travel in and out of Earth’s atmosphere. The goods they produce in space only lead to a net positive benefit on Earth, says West. He lists various benefits of working in space, including a clean environment, low pressure, high temperatures and reduced carbon emissions. “You can reach plus or minus 250°C,” he says.

Meanwhile, radiation from the sun can be used for lithography to make semiconductors. Although it sounds like something out of science fiction, “all the necessary technologies for this already exist,” says West.

Another popular UK space startup is Lumi Space. With support from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the UK Space Agency, LumiSpace is building the world’s first global commercial satellite laser ranging service, which will enable reliable and sustainable space exploration. The technology applications include collision avoidance, debris removal and constellation management.


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