The UK has announced a £160 million investment in the Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit scheme (CLEO).
Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan unveiled the scheme, which aims to deliver the next generation of high-tech satellites to boost internet connectivity and bridge digital divides across the country.
CLEO is set to capitalise on the latest advancements in space technology, particularly Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, renowned for their resilience and resistance to disruptions.
During the recent illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, LEO satellites demonstrated their vital importance by ensuring continuous and reliable connectivity even in the most challenging circumstances.
The proposed scheme will build on the UK’s established and growing satellite industry, providing critical support to researchers and businesses to develop new constellations and smarter satellites with better hardware.
One of the key focuses of CLEO will be leveraging AI to enhance data delivery and create interconnected networks that serve billions of people worldwide.
The CLEO investment would mark the most significant commitment the UK has ever made to satellite communications and aims to drive the UK’s thriving satellite industry toward global leadership while creating hundreds of highly skilled jobs.
This move is expected to unleash the country’s potential to become a global giant in the satellite industry while addressing the digital divide and providing high-speed internet to every corner of the UK. By bolstering the government’s Science and Technology Framework, CLEO aligns with the UK’s mission to improve Future Telecoms and ensure equal access to digital resources.
Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, commented:
“Tackling the digital divide is at the heart of empowering our citizens wherever they live, and by investing in the vital research and development that CLEO would facilitate, we can level up our country while growing the economy through high-quality jobs.
This proposed record investment is also potentially a huge opportunity to harness our reputation as a world leader in innovation and R&D investment, supporting leading UK businesses to deliver the next generation of satellites and positioning the UK as a true space superpower.”
To support the UK’s long-term ambitions in the space sector, the government is exploring a grant funding opportunity of up to £100 million.
Additionally, the government is considering an additional £60 million from the European Space Agency’s UK-backed Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) program, which supports the UK industry in delivering commercial satellite communications infrastructure. The scheme aims to establish UK leadership in critical areas for the next generation of LEO satellite communication technologies, including AI and machine learning.
CLEO’s success would pave the way for the launch of hundreds of satellites into space, revolutionising the UK’s communication infrastructure and effectively closing connectivity gaps.
Harshbir Sangha, Missions and Capabilities Delivery Director at the UK Space Agency, said:
“Today’s announcement is a vital step towards the delivery of a key priority of the UK Space Agency – to maximise the potential of low Earth orbit and become a global leader in next-generation satellite communications technologies by building our ability to service future high-volume constellations.
Our intent is to catalyse investment, build on existing capabilities, and meet the challenges associated with seizing a significant share of a fast-moving global market, by leveraging our growing national space programme and leading investments in commercial ESA programmes such as ARTES.”
This announcement comes after the reintroduction of the government’s National Space Council, co-chaired by the Science and Defense Secretaries.
The Council’s role is to coordinate government policy on space, positioning the UK to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the space sector, drive job creation, and grow the economy.
With the potential funding for CLEO, the UK is poised to advance its space capabilities and contribute significantly to the global industry. The ambitious investment promises to reshape the nation’s connectivity landscape and drive innovation in the satellite communications sector.
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