Innovation in the space industry takes off
Space technologies are growing in the UK, alongside other emerging technologies such as quantum computing. Simon Phillips, chief technology officer at Oxford Quantum Circuit (OQC), explains: “I don’t think there’s any way we can do full-scale research and space travel, if you will, without the technology. quantum technology. “It’s just too much to calculate.”
“I think very soon when we talk about space technology, it will always include quantum,” Phillips said. Enabling quantum-inclusive space technology, he explains, involves “building terrestrial systems capable of processing a great deal of quantum information in ways that were previously unknown to us. is doable”.
In the near term, quantum technologies can support R&D efforts in space such as mission planning, materials discovery, and research into how space travel affects the space environment. Solving the space debris problem is a cliché-sounding field, but, as Phillips notes, “it really is a small matter.” Quantum could model the removal of space debris “hundreds and hundreds” of years in the future, he explained.
In the long run, quantum technologies could improve our understanding of how people might be affected by their time in space. “We have data on Mars and we have data on humans, but we don’t understand the interactions between those environments,” Phillips said. With quantum, he says, “we can figure out how to protect people working in space,” which he sees as a major problem.
Building a collaborative startup ecosystem
As applications of quantum computing in space continue to grow, so does the UK’s space startup ecosystem.
For example, Space Forge is developing a manufacturing hub that will move in and out of Earth’s atmosphere. Western says it will only produce goods in space that have positive net benefits on the ground. He noted various benefits of working in space, including a cleaner environment, lower pressure, extreme temperatures, and reduced carbon emissions. “You can access plus or minus 250°C,” he said.
Meanwhile, radiation from the sun can be used for lithography in making semiconductors. While it sounds like something straight out of science fiction, “all the necessary technology for this already exists,” says Western.
Another notable UK space startup is Lumi Space. With support from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the UK Space Agency, Lumi Space is building the world’s first global commercial satellite laser range measurement service, which will enables safe, sustainable space exploration. Its technological applications include collision avoidance, debris removal, and constellation management.