£50 million of funding is on the table for ‘ambitious and innovative projects that will supercharge the UK’s satellite communications industry.’

The funding is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunications Services (ARTES) programme, and is available for firms developing new satellite constellations, the ground systems needed to access them, or whole end-to-end systems.

The release suggests potential applications for satellites could include 5G powered drones, autonomous driving, creating ‘space-based networks to rival cable-based terrestrial ones’, and ‘helping UK space operators to use disruptive new technologies and business models to enable global operations’ – whatever that means.

“Developing UK space capabilities and maximising commercial opportunities are key to the National Space Strategy, as part of our plans to become a leading power in space and build on a sector already worth £16.5 billion to the UK economy,” said Science Minister George Freeman. “We are determined to invest in our world class satellite technology sector, which is why I committed £1.8 billion for UK participation in ESA programs over the next five years and recently committed £190 million specifically to participate in international telecommunications missions.

“This latest £50 million UK Space Agency funding will help more companies into our vibrant fast growth UK space telecoms sector, helping drive both growth and wider UK economic resilience.”

UK Space Agency CEO Dr Paul Bate added: “This is an exciting time to be involved in the satellite communications industry as the world increases its dependence on these services to manage business, travel, security, infrastructure, connectivity, and more.

“This funding will help UK companies that have the right expertise and ambition to become global players in this market and lead on ground-breaking technologies that will enhance the wider UK space sector, create jobs and generate further investment. I look forward to seeing the results of the competition and following the successful projects in their next steps.”

As is perhaps evident by the slightly woolly use cases provided here, it’s not always obvious what the need to lean on satellites for connectivity is in developed nations. Providing access in places so remote that terrestrial towers do not cover them is certainly one tangible benefit, as is filling in gaps in places that have had infrastructure damaged or destroyed, as is the case in Ukraine. However these remain fairly niche cases, and whether or not the current gold rush on satellites can sustain all the players that are racing to send them into orbit remains to be seen.

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