UK Space Agency opens first call for £160 million satellite communications funding programme

The UK Space Agency (“UKSA”) has announced its first call for applications of its £160 million grant funding programme for Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit (“C-LEO Funding”).

The first C-LEO Funding tranche will provide up to £60 million in funding support over the next four years to UK companies and researchers to develop innovative satellite communications technology. The UKSA is seeking to award funding of around £10 - £25 million per project which will be funded both directly by the UKSA and through the European Space Agency’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) programme.

The UKSA states that the purpose of C-LEO Funding is to future-proof the UK’s competitive edge in the high-value satellite communication sector, the objectives include:

  • to accelerate the commercialisation and rapid industrialisation of key technologies and industry capabilities necessary for UK firms to meet demand for high-volume constellation production
  • to enable UK firms to secure a significant and sustained share of the high-value contracts due in the next four to five years that will drive the future sector supply chain
  • to develop the UK’s on-shore industrial capabilities in R&D-intensive activities of the constellation value chain
  • to catalyse private sector investment in UK high-volume constellation sector by signalling the UK’s commitment to the long-term growth of the satellite communication sector

The UKSA has stated that the new funding can be used for research and development projects to build the capabilities of satellite constellations, making them more efficient at processing data in space and improving the services they offer to customers on Earth. The UKSA believes this aligns with three of the four core pillars of the UK’s National Space Strategy, namely:

  • Pillar One: Unlocking growth in the UK space sector
  • Pillar Three: Growing the UK as a science and technology superpower
  • Pillar Four: Developing resilient space capabilities and services

The C-LEO Funding will be targeted towards proposals for innovative satellite communication technology readiness levels (“TRL”) of between 4 and 6 (higher TRL proposals will be considered), with the aim being to raise the proposals to TRL 7 in the following five technology areas:

  • on-board (regenerative) processing (“OBP”)
  • active antennas
  • optical inter-satellite links (“OISL”)
  • networking and routing
  • user terminals (“UT”)

Applicants must be UK-based but there is some flexibility here and, for example, it may be possible to partner with non-UK based companies.

Applicants will need to complete a short online Expression of Interest (“EoI”) form by midday (BST) Wednesday 8 May 2024 and those successful at the EoI stage will be invited to complete the full application form by end of June 2024.

It is vital that applicants put their best foot forward at EoI stage as the UKSA will not provide feedback on draft EoIs, feedback will only be given once the EoI stage has closed.

For those interested, our team of legal and sector specialists are able to provide guidance and support throughout the application process and more broadly. 

For example, it is the responsibility of all applicants to ensure that they are complying with the relevant subsidy control requirements, we have extensive experience of advising both public bodies and applicants on subsidy control assessments (as well as EU State aid for applicant’s based in Northern Ireland) and grant funding agreements.

Additionally, we have commercial and regulatory experience with space and satellite projects and can provide support with various national and international requirements in relation to this opportunity and more broadly, including relating to space and spectrum licensing, contractual arrangements, and security / foreign investment.

There are also a range of other funding opportunities for space technologies and projects in the UK and internationally which we can guide interested parties through. 

For more information or support in relation to the C-LEO Funding or other opportunities, please get in touch.

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