City A.M.’s Millie Turner offers up a roundup of the most important news across the space industry, every Friday.
- Space junk – an escalating issue
- A new Martian aurora
- Investment in British space tech
Space junk is getting out of control
The soaring number of satellite constellations planned by Elon Musk’s Starlink, taxpayer backed OneWeb and raft of smaller players will rack up dangerous levels space debris, the boss of British satellite giant Inmarsat said on Tuesday.
While chief executive Rajeev Suri hailed recent innovations in low orbit satellite tech, most satellites being launched this year will be out of action in just a decade.
“Mega-constellations are talking about tens of thousands of new satellites during this decade – satellites with an expected life of only five to 10 years,” Suri told the Royal Aeronautical Society conference in London.
“The resulting debris creates hazards not just in a particular orbit, but for anything passing through that orbit. We simply do not yet understand all the risks this creates and do not yet have all the technologies needed to manage the situation effectively.”
The satellite boss urged for better industry and regulatory co-ordination as so-called mega-constellations are launched.
Inmarsat, which is currently undergoing a $7.3bn (£5.8bn) takeover by US rival Viasat, is planning its own small and targeted low-orbit constellation, having already launched 14 satellites into higher level geostationary orbit.
Though SpaceX-owned Starlink is topping the tally with 2,000 satellites in the sky to date and an eyewatering 12,000 more satellites on the way.
Space debris has the potential to be costly concern for satellite companies, as it could damage tech while in orbit.
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) in October pledged to renew efforts to tackle the “neglected” issue – which has seen space tech firms such as Tokyo-based Astroscale and Scotland’s Skyrora embark on separate missions to tackle it.
There are around 900,000 pieces of debris currently orbiting Earth, UKSA estimated late last year – which include spent rocket bodies and tools from astronauts – though there have been stranger things found in the sky.
A mysterious Martian aurora
The United Arab Emirates has unveiled the latest discovery from its Emirates Mars Mission, which it says poses new questions about Mars’ atmosphere, the planet’s magnetic fields and the solar wind.
The mission, which was the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, saw the country’s Hope Probe reach Mars orbit in 2021.
While the most recent observations include a never-before seen phenomenon, dubbed the ‘sinuous discrete aurora’ – a large worm-like aurora that wraps halfway around the Red planet – other types of aurora have been found on the planet previously.
“When we first imaged Mars’ discrete aurora shortly after the Hope probe’s arrival at Mars in 2021, we knew we had unveiled new potential to make observations never before possible on this scale, and we took the decision to increase our focus on these auroras,” Emirates Mars mission science lead, Hessa Al Matroushi said.
“Since those first observations of the discrete aurora, we have continued to see incredible new patterns of aurora that open new insights into the interactions of charged particles in the Martian atmosphere.”
It comes as the UAE secured a six-month mission on the International Space Station, after snapping up a seat on a SpaceX Falcon 9, via Axiom Space, local media The National News first reported.
Twinkle: British space tech investment
While the UAE’s space industry is booming, the UK’s sector is also rife with investment.
Space tech firm Blue Skies Space has secured further capital investment from its shareholders for its commercial satellite, known as Twinkle, to be built by manufacturing heavyweights ABB and Airbus.
The financial backing, prepared by the Startup Funding Club, tipped its overall investment over the £1m mark.
“We are delighted to receive strong backing from our investor network, which positions us for the next stage of investment and brings our offering closer to market,” said CEO Marcell Tessenyi.
Speaking to City A.M., Tessenyi said: “We have raised a cumulative total of £1.1m from our shareholders to date, in addition to ESA and UK Space Agency grant funding.
“This support is a major achievement which allows us to proceed with a £5m Series A funding round this year.”