Press release: Government backs UK companies tackling dangerous ‘space junk’

  • Currently there are approximately 160 million objects in orbit – mainly debris – which could collide with satellites vital to services we use every day

  • UK Space Agency and Ministry of Defence sign formal agreement to work together on monitoring threats and hazards in orbit

Seven pioneering projects which will develop new sensor technology or artificial intelligence to monitor hazardous space debris, have been announced today by the UK Space Agency.

The UK Space Agency and Ministry of Defence have also announced the next step in their joint initiative to enhance the UK’s awareness of events in space.

Estimates of the amount of space debris in orbit vary, from around 900,000 pieces of space junk larger than 1cm to over 160 million orbital objects in total. Only a fraction of this debris can currently be tracked and avoided by working satellites. The UK has a significant opportunity to benefit from the new age of satellite megaconstellations – vast networks made up of hundreds or even thousands of spacecraft – so it is more important than ever to effectively track this debris.

Today’s investments will help bolster the UK’s capabilities to track this space junk and monitor the risks of potentially dangerous collisions with satellites or even the crewed International Space Station.

Projects backed today include Lift Me Off who will develop and test machine learning algorithms to distinguish between satellites and space debris, and Fujitsu who are combining machine learning and quantum inspired processing to improve mission planning to remove debris.

Two companies, Deimos and Northern Space and Security, will develop new optical sensors to track space objects from the UK whilst Andor, based in Northern Ireland, will enhance their astronomy camera to track and map ever smaller sized debris.

D-Orbit UK

D-Orbit UK will use a space-based sensor on their recently launched satellite platform to capture images of space objects and couple this with Passive Bistatic radar techniques developed by the University of Strathclyde.

Finally, new satellite laser ranging technologies will be researched by Lumi Space to precisely track smaller space objects.

Last year there was a close call in which a £100 million spacecraft operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) had to light up its thrusters to dodge a satellite. A clash between the spacecraft was far from certain, but the trajectories posed enough of a threat that ESA concluded that they need to manoeuvre the spacecraft out of harm’s way.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said:

Millions of pieces of space junk orbiting the earth present a significant threat to UK satellite systems which provide the vital services that we all take for granted – from mobile communications to weather forecasting.

By developing new AI and sensor technology, the seven pioneering space projects we are backing today will significantly strengthen the UK’s capabilities to monitor these hazardous space objects, helping to create new jobs and protect the services we rely on in our everyday lives.

Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency said:

People probably do not realise just how cluttered space is. You would never let a car drive down a motorway full of broken glass and wreckages, and yet this is what satellites and the space station have to navigate every day in their orbital lanes.

In this new age of space megaconstellations the UK has an unmissable opportunity to lead the way in monitoring and tackling this space junk. This funding will help us grasp this opportunity and in doing so create sought after expertise and new high skill jobs across the country.

The funding coincides with the signing of a partnership agreement between the Ministry of Defence and UK Space Agency to work together on space domain awareness. This civil and military collaboration aims to bring together data and analysis from defence, civil and commercial space users to better understand what is happening in orbit to ensure the safety and security of UK licensed satellites.

Building on the UK’s current efforts, which has seen the UK Space Agency and RAF analysts working together since 2016, this agreement will further improve our space domain awareness capabilities.

It could also provide opportunities to work alongside global allies, such as the US, to support our continued work to enhance space sustainability and maintain the UK space industry as a global leader.

The UK is already a world-leader in small satellite technology, telecommunications, robotics and Earth observation, and our universities host some of the best minds in the world for space science. Space surveillance and tracking (SST) is a growing international market which space consultants Euroconsult and London Economics forecast could potentially reach over £100 million.


Projects in detail

Note: Confirmation of projects led by Andor and Lumi Space are still subject to final agreement

Lumi Space

Lumi Space are working on photonic technologies for ranging and characterisation of space objects, from satellites down to space debris. Satellite laser ranging is an ideal method for precise tracking of space objects, and innovations developed by Lumi enable high-performance, low-cost systems to do this. This project is for continuation of Lumi R&D.


This project focuses on the design, prototyping and demonstration of a Low-Cost LEO Optical Surveillance Sensor. The core work is an integrated processing board to conduct all necessary image calibration and data extraction operations used as a standalone or multiple-aperture “multiple-eye” design. A ‘40×40 squared degrees one-eye’ prototype will be built together with the software systems to control and process the images and will be demonstrated during an observation campaign. In the final solution, ‘’9 eyes’’ will be combined.

Lift Me Off

The project is concerned with developing machine learning algorithms for in-orbit detection and classification of satellites and space debris using a combination of space-based sensors and artificial intelligence. The technology will be able to distinguish between satellites operating nominally and anomalously together with understanding the composition of space debris on-orbit. A prototype test bed with representative sensors, electronics and algorithms will be built to experimentally develop the concept and techniques which can be later scaled up to an end-to-end autonomous algorithm for detection of anomalous behaviour that can, similarly to air traffic control, raise warnings based on live information.


D-Orbit UK will exploit a new capability to enable routine, targeted space-based LEO SST observations using D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier Vessel, a platform with a multi-year lifetime and propulsion capability, to offer an unprecedented opportunity to observe debris both passively and actively. ION star trackers will be repurposed to capture images of space objects for processing on board and on ground, coupled with Passive Bistatic radar techniques developed by the University of Strathclyde, which uses third party illuminators to characterise resident space objects. NORSS will process, associate, integrate and support the commercialisation of the data within wider SST services.


Fujitsu, in conjunction with its partners, Astroscale, the University of Glasgow and Amazon Web Services (AWS), are undertaking a project to develop a proof of value to make space debris removal missions more commercially viable using its open innovation methodology. It will be evaluating how to optimise trajectory planning for multi-debris removal missions. Fujitsu is bringing together its ground-breaking quantum inspired optimisation services, which benchmark studies prove are up to 10,000 times faster than traditional computers, along with a 40 year heritage in space in Japan. In combination with Astroscale’s space debris removal expertise, the University of Glasgow’s space research capabilities and AWS Cloud and Machine Learning services, the project will support the UK’s ambition to grow its share of the global space market to 10% by 2030.

The project involves the industrial research to rapidly design and deploy an extremely low-cost prototype optical camera system to track objects in Low Earth Orbit. Designed from the ground up, the sensor will be competitive with radar observations for providing both UK independent space surveillance and tracking data and characterisation data of objects. The project is split into 6 phases and once deployed the camera will perform a live observation campaign acquiring positional and photometry data on space objects culminating with a validation exercise against a real-world experimental debris removal mission operated by Astroscale.


Detection of Low Earth Orbit debris of smaller sizes is of increasing importance due to the ongoing increases in quantities of both Satellites and potentially satellite destroying in-orbit debris. Traditional CCD cameras have a significant (40 second) read out ‘dead time’ which considerably limits their application in detection of small in-orbit debris. The proposed project is intended to make significant improvements to Andor’s Balor very large area (17 megapixel / 70mm diagonal) scientific CMOS camera. Balor is ideal for large sky surveys that measure photometric and astrometric variability across timescales ranging from milliseconds to tens of seconds. The proposed project will significantly increase Balor’s sensitivity resulting in considerably faster imaging and/or enabling the tracking of smaller in-orbit debris.

A report by Dr Mark Hilborne (King’s Space Security Research Group) and Dr Mark Presley (MAP Analytica), called Towards a UK space surveillance policy, has been published by the King’s Policy Institute. It positions a UK space surveillance policy and examines the utility of a nationally assured space surveillance capability.


Smart Systems Forum Slides: 9 September 2020

[unable to retrieve full-text content]These are the slides presented at the Smart Systems Forum on the 9th September 2020.

Research and analysis: Heat, energy efficiency, smart technology and health review

[unable to retrieve full-text content]A review of evidence from high-income countries on the relationships between heat, energy efficiency, smart technology and health.

Guidance: European Structural and Investment Funds procurement documents

Published 17 February 2017
Last updated 15 September 2020 + show all updates

  1. Version 7 – reflecting the changes made to procurement thresholds every 2 years, and addresses a number of common issues which have recently been identified in A125/A127 visits.

  2. ESIF National Procurement Requirements were updated to version 6 on 16 August 2019 to take account of updated breaches and associated penalties put into place by the European Commission.

  3. The ESIF National procurement requirements has been amended and changes made to Chapter 6, in particular the National Rules in version 5. Version 4 of the requirements issued in December 2016 included a new paragraph at section 25 about delegated grant schemes but this has caused some confusion and led to misinterpretation of the content. We have decided to remove this paragraph which means that when the national rules apply to a contract, the requirements in the table at section 23 need to be followed. The aim of this change is to reduce the risk of misinterpretation and to ensure simplification by applying the same requirements for everyone following the national rules. These changes are effective from the date of publish and is not retrospective.

  4. First published.


National Statistics: Road fuel prices: 14 September 2020


News story: Chair of UK Accounting Standards Endorsement Board appointed

  • Chair appointed to lead new board that will endorse and adopt international accounting standards at the end of the transition period
  • international accounting standards are used in over 125 countries, to increase transparency for investors and facilitate investment
  • the board will ensure the UK can continue to play a key role in the global development of these standards

Pauline Wallace has been appointed as the inaugural chair of the UK Accounting Standards Endorsement Board (UKEB).

The UKEB has been set up to endorse and adopt new or amended international accounting standards on behalf of the UK, when the transition period comes to an end.

The board will conduct research to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of developing opinions in accounting. It will also actively contribute to the development of financial reporting internationally, helping to ensure that UK views are effectively represented in this important area.

International accounting standards are in use in over 125 countries, including all G20 countries, enabling increased transparency, accountability and efficiency in the flow of capital between countries.

And they facilitate investment across borders by making it easier to compare accounts in multiple jurisdictions.

The UKEB will enable the UK to continue to play a leading role in international financial reporting and ensure the UK retains its status as home to one of the strongest capital markets in the world.

Minister for Corporate Responsibility Lord Callanan said:

Effective international accounting standards support vital global investment.

The new UK Accounting Standards Endorsement Board will ensure we continue to have a say in how those standards are set, helping deliver our aim to make our country the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

Pauline has a wealth of experience and knowledge of the UK accounting sector, and I am delighted to be able to appoint her to this important role.

Chair of the UK International Accounting Standards Endorsement Board Pauline Wallace said:

This is a pivotal moment for UK capital markets as we transition to UK adoption of international accounting standards.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead the UKEB as it undertakes this important task and to ensure that the UK continues to play a key role in the development of these standards globally.

About Pauline Wallace

Pauline has over 30 years’ experience in the development of accounting standards, both as a practitioner and as a standard setter. As a partner in PwC she established and led the global financial instruments accounting team before heading their UK public policy team. Since retiring from PwC, she served two terms on the Regulatory Decisions Committee of the FCA and is currently a member of the Determinations Panel at the Pensions Regulator. She is also a Director of Paradigm Trust, a multi-academy trust, and Chair of their Audit and Risk Committee.

About UKEB

  • Regulations made in 2019 confer the endorsement and adoption of international accounting standards function to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at the end of the transition period. These powers will be delegated to the UKEB as soon as it is fully operational, which is expected to occur in early 2021
  • this includes the recruitment of seven to 14 Board members, to be selected after an open competition and appointed by the Chair, with approval from the Secretary of State
  • the Secretary of State will be responsible for endorsement and adoption of international accounting standards during the interim period and until the board is sufficiently operational
  • the UKEB’s role includes the endorsement and adoption of new or amended international accounting standards issued by the International Accounting Standards Board
  • it will report to the Secretary of State on technical matters and to the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) Board on its governance and due process procedures. The Secretary of State will lay the UKEB report on the discharge of its delegated functions before Parliament annually. Read further information on the UKEB
  • UK-adopted international accounting standards will be mandatory in the UK for listed companies when preparing their consolidated financial statements for financial years that begin after the transition period. Read further information on the accounting standards for UK companies after the end of the transition period

Speech: Science Minister at Vitae Connections Week 2020

Thank you.

It’s great to be here with you all, to talk about that most crucial foundation of all science and research: people.

There is little doubt that we have some of the world’s most incredibly talented people working right here, right now, in the UK.

And the great privilege of being Minister for Science and Research is that I get to meet these amazing and diverse people – from the brilliant researchers working on nuclear fusion at the JET laboratory in Culham, to the medical scientists working on coronavirus treatments at the University of Birmingham and the wonderful people working on the Boundless Creativity programme.

As well as learning about your work, I get to understand what makes you tick – what makes you unique and special.

Your focus. Your desire for collaboration. Your creativity and your passion.

You are the people whose vision, leadership and talent give us all so much to be proud of.

As many of you know, we published our Research and Development Roadmap in July – a bold new vision for the future of UK R&D.

As I have worked with you to develop the Roadmap, and the People and Culture Strategy which amongst other things will follow it, I have heard a lot about what has helped you be successful – what has enabled you to do your best work – and critically, what makes you want to stay here in the UK.

You have also shown me the things that are hindering you – the things holding you back from fulfilling your potential, and which sometimes, sadly, are causing some people to quit research altogether.

Last month, I met a young woman undertaking her PhD at a large UK university. She told me all about the fascinating things she was researching, and the imaginative ways that her research could make a difference. I could sense that real, wonderful passion and excitement she had for her work.

And then she hit me with a bombshell:

I just can’t see myself having a future in research.

Now, let me be clear, we have a need for highly skilled people in all sorts of industries, and we should support people to be successful and feel valued whatever they decide to do.

But for this aspiring young researcher, and for many more people, there are just too many barriers to sticking around.

For starters, there are slim chances of gaining secure, permanent employment – which for our PhD student meant owning her own home and starting a family were a distant dream.

Then there is massive pressure to just grind away on the hamster wheel, to secure whatever scarce short-term funding is around, and to keep trying to publish in particular journals.

And to keep working on the same research areas that are likely to win that short-term funding and be published in those journals.

But, most worrying of all, I heard about the culture of bullying and harassment.

Let me turn to this first.

Let’s face it, bullying and harassment can occur in any workplace, and we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that research workplaces are no exception.

But it was an enormous shock, coming into this job, to learn that nearly two-thirds of researchers have witnessed bullying or harassment at work, and almost half have experienced it themselves.

These figures speak for themselves.

I want to be very clear: bullying and harassment are completely unacceptable.

As a community, we must do everything we can to eradicate bullying and harassment, getting rid of bad behaviour and its root causes, and to promote wellbeing at all levels.

And as government, it is our duty not to condone the behaviour of bullies, no matter how talented they may be as individuals.

Institutions with widespread bullying and harassment problems should not benefit from the taxpayer’s support.

We need a culture of fair treatment, and of respect for each other. It is high time to stamp out the problem of bullying and harassment in research.

But it is also the case that there are other widespread issues in the culture of research, which are interfering with wellbeing.

I have made it my business to reach out to early career researchers, the future talent on which we all depend.

The message I have heard is clear: we must do something about the fear that so many feel.

As a start, we should make sure that we create real longevity in careers. Employers should provide clear career paths, and the stable employment contracts to match.

Having a casualised research workforce where the vast majority of people can’t develop a proper career is no way to build our status as a science superpower.

So for those that wish to pursue a career in R&D, we should provide clear routes to progression, including routes between academia and other places, and between technical and research roles.

People like our PhD student should never feel like she has failed just because she doesn’t end up as an academic.

Because focussing on a narrow set of opportunities leads to unhealthy levels of competition and game-playing. It kills diversity. And it damages our R&D system overall.

Because research is inherently creative – it’s about finding out new things, taking risks and venturing into the unknown.

Nobody should live in fear that, if they don’t play exactly the same game as everyone else, according to the same narrow set of rules, they’ll lose their jobs.

People need to feel stable, appreciated and secure, in order to have the confidence and freedom to do their most imaginative and creative work.

This means we must do whatever we can to put diversity at the heart of everything we do.

This is about more than people’s protected characteristics, vital though it is to respect and protect those.

And what’s more, promoting diversity should never simply be reduced to a tick-box exercise – just one more thing you have to demonstrate to win funding.

To make a real difference, we need to create a culture that welcomes the widest range of viewpoints, experiences and approaches, all of which contribute to a broader and richer R&D system – allowing the work itself to be more diverse, brilliant and impactful.

Diverse and sustainable funding

And we also need to fund that work properly.

We must look seriously at whether the system of short-term grants for projects is really working, really supporting people to do their best work. Or whether it’s instead promoting a monoculture of bureaucracy and risk aversion.

I want us to think about how we can use our funding to support creative and brilliant people, and places, not just the most promising projects.

This means supporting sustainable and well-funded teams, units and institutions. With support for everyone involved in our R&D vision – from top scientists to postdocs to PhD students and doctoral apprentices, from technicians to professional support staff.

From leaders, managers, governors, and people working in our funding agencies. To people interested in science, engaging with research, or considering a future in research for themselves or their children.

Our R&D People and Culture Strategy should support the whole system – backing everyone to do their best.

And when we do provide funding, we should do it properly and sustainably.

If the COVID-19 crisis has shown us anything, it’s that the research base is vulnerable to shocks – and that longstanding funding gaps in our research base have now expanded to the point where the situation is no longer sustainable.

This government has provided unprecedented support to stabilise the R&D system through the crisis – support which is about protecting researchers’ jobs and livelihoods.

But as we seek to build back better, we must not flinch from the task of building a more sustainable future.

Improving the way we evaluate research

But it would be a big mistake to think this is only a matter of funding things properly.

It is clear to me that, for many of you, winning a research grant is a badge of honour – a matter of great pride.

It’s a sign that a group of your peers thinks you have the capacity and potential to do important work.

This same pride, in being recognised by one’s peers, is found everywhere in research.

From the award of a PhD following rigorous assessment, through to the acceptance for publication of a journal article, book or other output, to being promoted up to the rank of professor.

There is, of course, something perfectly natural about wanting to be accepted by your peers – of feeling that you belong, that you fit in.

But this feeling mustn’t ever become more important than the pride people feel in the work itself – the pride in doing something important.

The pride in being given a chance to be truly curious, to ask vital questions about the world and to hunt for the answers.

And the pride in loudly communicating your findings to the whole world, so that everyone might feel the benefit of your new insights.

That’s why it’s so baffling to me that scientists and researchers seem to evaluate each other in such strange ways – by obsessing over spurious metrics or narrow indicators of prestige.

I have been listening very carefully to what you have been saying to me about the pressure you feel from things like grant income targets or the impending Research Excellence Framework (REF) return.

That pressure you feel to ‘publish or perish’.

Publication seems to have become an end in itself.

It’s as though some researchers – and leaders – have forgotten what really matters.

The joy of exploration, scholarship and discovery, and the great benefit that these can bring to the world.

I of course recognise that the ‘publish or perish’ culture in research is not unique to the UK.

But part of being a global leader in research is having the courage to lead into new places, to take on challenges that to others might seem insurmountable.

So I have today written to science ministers across the world, to invite them to join me in looking closely at this dependence on publications and to find out what we can collectively do about it.

An important part of the solution must be to make research more openly available.

It is absurd that the very research community that gave us the great gift of the Internet – the means to freely share information instantly with almost anyone around the world – still relies on an outdated system of publishing in closed-access journals which locks scientific discoveries away, tragically curtailing their usefulness.

So let me restate this government’s commitment to full and immediate open access to all publicly funded research. And let me give my full backing to UKRI for the work they are doing to develop a new open access policy, working alongside international partners.

But we should be bolder than this.

We should embrace, and encourage, new ways to share research – the exciting, diverse ways to communicate research and engage more people in research.

We should value datasets, code and open methods, just as much as we value books, journals and conferences.

Our assessment systems should recognise diversity in outcomes and impact.

And equally, let’s celebrate the exhibition, the performance, the roadshow, the website and the wiki. The television programme, the community engagements, the patient involvement and the citizen science programme.

Let’s seize this opportunity, this moment of renewal, to unleash the creativity of all of us, to improve research culture – to make it more diverse, more imaginative and more impactful.

Because that’s really the most amazing thing about research: the potential to be surprised, to discover something truly new and interesting, and to advance human progress – whether by a tiny step or a giant leap.

That excitement is something that we can all share in – and we must prioritise it above all else. It is what draws people in, and it is what changes lives for the better.

That’s how we’ll know that our People and Culture Strategy is working – it will be something that we know works for us all.

Thank you.


Transparency data: BEIS major projects: appointment letters for Senior Responsible Owners (SROs)

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RIIO-ED1: Losses Discretionary Reward Decision for tranche three, 2020

In March 2020, we received five submissions for tranche three of the Losses Discretionary Reward (LDR). The LDR aims to encourage DNO groups (DNOs) to undertake additional actions to better understand manage electricity losses on their networks.

The third tranche of the LDR rewards DNOs for specific actions they have undertaken, and concurrent improvements they have made in their understanding of losses following on from tranches one and two. The third tranche also includes an assessment of losses management achievements and preparations for the RIIO-ED2 price control.

The LDR is worth up to £32 million across all DNOs, spread over three tranches during RIIO-ED1. In tranche one, we awarded £3.8 million in total across the six DNO groups. Tranche two was worth up to £10 million; however, no reward was given. Tranche three is worth up to £14m.

This decision document sets out the reasons for our decision on each submission.


Reviewing the potential impact of COVID-19 on the default tariff cap: September 2020 policy consultation

This policy consultation sets out our initial thinking on how the COVID-19 crisis might have impacted suppliers’ costs, whether we should adjust the default tariff cap (“the cap”), and if so, how.

We consider all the costs elements within the cap, and the impacts on serving both credit and PPM customers. We also discuss the different ways we could make any required adjustment, and when.

If you wish to respond to this consultation, please send your views to by Monday 12th October 2020