STFC celebrates £200 million raised by space tech start-ups

Commercial success for space tech start-ups tackling climate change.

UK start-ups at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre UK (ESA BIC UK) have now raised more than £200 million in equity investment collectively.

New statistics also confirm that, in addition to this, start-ups at the ESA BIC UK:

  • sustain over 900 highly-skilled UK jobs
  • contribute £51 million in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy every year
  • have a 95% survival rate over five years following graduation from the programme, more than double the UK average, despite the economic uncertainties of the last few years

Supporting businesses and entrepreneurs

Since 2011, the ESA BIC UK has supported more than 130 UK start-ups and entrepreneurs.

The start-ups and entrepreneurs have used space and satellite technologies to develop new products and services across a diverse and exciting range of sectors.

Part of the world’s largest business incubation programme for space tech start-ups, it is managed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in collaboration with:

  • ESA
  • UK Space Agency
  • University of Leicester

Open Cosmos: climate monitoring technology

The £200 million milestone follows a substantial funding success by start-up company Open Cosmos, raising more than £40 million to expand its satellite solutions for monitoring climate change.

Joining ESA BIC UK in 2015, Open Cosmos achieved a number of significant milestones during its tenancy.

These included launching its first satellite from the International Space Station and securing some significant contracts, including with ESA.

Open Cosmos specialises in designing, constructing, launching, and operating advanced satellites for Earth observation, from deforestation to biodiversity monitoring.

Democratising space

Unique in its capability to handle telecommunications, navigation, and scientific missions, Open Cosmos focuses on energy and climate monitoring.

Its unique technology platform streamlines access to Earth observation data, lowering mission costs, and enabling other start-ups to harness satellite Earth observation technologies and to test their new technologies in space.

The £40 million investment highlights Open Cosmos’s progress and its role in simplifying space technology access, aligning with the ESA BIC UK’s mission to support early-stage space companies.

Sustainability focus

Open Cosmos is just one example of the success achieved by space tech start-ups, working within a wide range of industries.

Open Cosmos have joined the ESA BIC UK at the beginning of their journeys to succeed and thrive in global markets.

Furthermore, over the last 10 years, just under half of the space-tech start-ups supported by the ESA BIC UK have had a sustainability focus.

These start-ups have developed a diverse range of sustainability-focused technologies, from validating carbon credits and rewilding projects using Earth observation data, to developing green propulsion technology for space rockets.

Satavia: world first commercial milestone

Earlier this year, green aerospace start-up Satavia signed the world’s first multi-year commercial production contract with Etihad Airways, to integrate its innovative contrail management technology into routine flights.

Satavia joined the ESA BIC UK in 2017, where it used Earth observation satellite technology to develop an analytics platform for monitoring environmental factors in the atmosphere, including volcanic ash and ice.

Satavia’s contrail management system optimises flight plans for more eco-friendly operations, making slight routing adjustments to avoid the formation of persistent warming contrails.

The process involves examining Etihad’s schedules and identifying flights with warming impacts, then suggesting altitude adjustments to prevent persistent contrails.

Globally significant technology

Satavia is on a mission to eliminate 2% of human climate impact through preventing the formation of warming aircraft contrails.

It also aims to encourage the aviation industry to adopt a target of reducing these impacts by up to 50% by 2030.

Its partnership with Etihad holds global significance in the aviation industry’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact, and supports Etihad’s quest for climate-neutral operations and aligning with sustainability goals worldwide.

By implementing minimal changes to a small percentage of flights, environmentally-conscious operators like Etihad can significantly reduce their non-carbon dioxide climate footprint with minimal disruption to day-to-day operations.

An inspirational example

Paul Vernon, Executive Director of Business and Innovation at STFC, said:

Here we have two outstanding examples of how space technologies can help address both our environmental and industrial challenges.

Without a doubt, turning a forward-thinking idea into a commercially successful offering can be a daunting process, full of challenges.

However, Open Cosmos and Satavia are a clear demonstration of the success that pioneering businesses in the UK space sector can achieve with access to the right technologies skills and business support.

This £200 million milestone is an incredible achievement for the early stage businesses that we have worked with since the ESA BIC UK started out, and their successes are exactly what we set out to enable them to achieve.

Open Cosmos and Satavia have made remarkable progress in a short period of time, and their technologies are now set to generate far reaching benefits for our society and economy.

This is exactly what the ESA BIC UK sets out to do.

I wholeheartedly congratulate both businesses on their achievements so far, as they look towards continued success in the future.

Technological and societal benefits

Geraldine Naja, Director for Commercialisation, Industry and Competitiveness at ESA, said:

ESA BIC UK has been one of the pioneers of ESA’s approach to business incubation since more than a decade and it is notable to witness this landmark for the start-ups supported by the incubator.

Open Cosmos and Satavia are exemplary in tackling pressing challenges that we face today in both technological and societal respects.

Under the commercialisation endeavours of ESA we are looking to support the scaling up and impact of such companies by listening and adapting to their New Space needs to position Europe as a global space commercialisation hub.

Further information

Space for commercial success

The ESA BIC UK provides start-ups with a 12 to 24 month support package to help them through the development of their game-changing products and services in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace.

This includes:

  • around £43,000 thousand funding (£51,000 from 2024)
  • access to intellectual property, technologies and expertise generated by ESA research
  • access to STFC’s world class expertise and research facilities
  • dedicated business support

Get involved with the ESA BIC, wherever you are in the UK

Up to 15 companies per year can join this UK-wide programme at:

  • Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire
  • Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City Region
  • The Royal Observatory in Edinburgh
  • University of Leicester’s new Space Park Leicester

Each location is firmly associated with world leading specialisms, providing a unique network of:

  • science
  • innovation
  • business opportunity

Companies joining the programme can benefit from these specialisms wherever they are located in the UK.

Calls for proposals to join the ESA BIC UK take place throughout the year. Find out more about the ESA BIC UK, and how to apply.

Top image:  Credit: tifonimages, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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