Friday 8 March 2019 11:03 am

UK Space Agency joins hunt for Earth-like planets orbiting alien stars

Sport and Business Reporter at City AM. Email:

Sport and Business Reporter at City AM. Email:

The UK Space Agency is set to provide £7m to tackle solar winds' impact on Earth communications, as it works with other space agencies to search for more Earth-like planets orbiting alien stars.

The space weather mission, called the Solar Wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (Smile), will study how solar wind affects the Earth's magnetosphere and the impact on satellites, power grids and communications networks. 

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It brings the UK Space Agency's total investment in the project to £10m and will be used to build upon work completed by universities around the country already in the design and development cutting-edge space science.

A second mission was also announced in which the UK has agreed with partners including the European Space Agency to search for Earth-like planets orbiting alien stars. 

The UK Space Agency has invested £25m into the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (Plato) mission, which is being led by the University of Warwick.

“Space weather – such as solar wind – is a potential threat to our communications systems here on Earth so this research examining how the wind interacts with our planet’s electromagnetic system is important," said Science Minister Chris Skidmore.

"Meanwhile, work to discover Earth-like planets around other stars may eventually lead to us answering the question of whether extra-terrestrial life exists.

“This £35m of space science funding is part of our ambitious Industrial Strategy, boosting research investment and helping the UK’s space sector to thrive.”

The funding for both of these projects will be in addition to the UK's regular contributions to the European Space Agency's (ESA) programme. 

Extreme space weather could have a socio-economic impact of €15bn (£12.9bn) according to a study from the ESA, affecting satellite navigation, shortwave communications and power grids.

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The purpose of the new technology is to provide accurate forecasting of such rare events to minimise disruption.

“Space weather remains one of the biggest risks facing humanity and Smile will make a fundamental contribution in furthering our scientific understanding to help mitigate its impact," said Professor Graziella Branduardi-Raymont, Smile mission Co-Principal Investigator at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

“This is a crucial step for the UK institutes collaborating to make Smile a success, and in particular its Soft X-ray Imager which is led by the University of Leicester, as adoption by ESA is a necessary step to secure funding from the UK Space Agency to support the development of Smile to launch in 2023.”