UKRI receives government funding in new Earth Observation science

Image of CO2 levels across the Earth November 2022

UKRI supported projects in the Earth Observation sector will receive over £38 million as part of a £200m investment to protect UK talent and industry in this field.

Earth Observation (EO) is a vital science and a growing industry. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) RAL Space, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Innovate UK will be running 8 of the 17 new projects being funded.

More than half of our key climate data comes from space and these new projects will ensure we continue to benefit from access to the latest data on the changes to our climate.

Speaking about the new investment, Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), said:

This funding will enable the UK to continue to be at the forefront of climate change research, by enabling researchers and innovators to access and use earth observation data to understand the natural environment and address key environmental challenges.

Well-founded reputation for excellence

The UK has a vibrant landscape of world leading EO academic and industrial organisations and a well-founded reputation for excellence in EO.

For example, in climate science, leading UK research institutions have been measuring sea and land surface temperature from space for over 3 decades.

RAL Space, Leicester University, Reading University and Oxford University were brought together through NERC’s National Centre for Earth Observation.

This data is used by meteorological agencies, including the Met Office, around the world to improve weather forecast accuracy; helping to save lives, infrastructure and crops.

World-leading expertise

Dr Sarah Beardsley, Director of STFC RAL Space, said:

We’re incredibly fortunate to have some of the world’s finest EO scientists and engineers working in the UK, many of them here at RAL Space, and this new investment will really allow us to harness and expand the UK’s world-leading expertise in earth observation.

The new projects that we’ll now deliver will help support the UK’s growing EO industry, build even stronger international ties, and lower the barrier of entry for UK firms to develop their own next generation space missions.

UK leadership in space sustainability

George Freeman MP, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, said:

These new investments will support the ongoing growth of the UK space and commercial satellite sector, creating new jobs around the UK from Cornwall to the north of Scotland, and securing UK leadership in space sustainability.

They will put our scientists and engineers at the forefront of some of the world’s most important missions and programmes which drive transformational innovation.

17 projects

The 17 projects include a broad range of activities, from measuring wind speeds to improving the accuracy of climate data, and from funding small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) projects to additional PhD places.

Some projects will involve new or extended collaborations with international partners such as Australia.

Below is a list of the UKRI projects with a short description:

NERC (£19.3 million)

UK EO climate information service (UKEO-CIS)

This project will produce new climate data, provide more accurate insights to national and international impacts of the climate crisis, and help guide the UK towards greater resilience to the effects of climate change.

EO data hub

The EO data hub will build a next generation data platform to give the UK a single portal for accessing and processing satellite data to develop new applications and environmental insights.

The hub is a consortia project between:

  • the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)
  • RAL Space and National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
  • the Satellite Applications Catapult who will deliver it, with inputs from industry and government

It represents a new UK capability enabling access to diverse satellite data sets for the benefit of UK industry, academia and government, particularly for applications in:

  • climate
  • finance
  • carbon services
  • agriculture

SENSE centre for doctoral training (CDT) programme for EO

The Satellite Data in Environmental Science (SENSE) Centre will train the next generation of earth observation leaders, with the expertise and knowledge to address earth system challenges.

This funding will enable the SENSE CDT to support an additional cohort of up to 20 PhD studentships. This is vital to continue the highly skilled workforce the UK needs to advance the UK EO sector into the future.

STFC (£14.73 million)

UK EO marine and climate mission development programme

This project will deliver early preparation to gather UK requirements, research and industry strengths, and space technologies to build and operate a UK-led Earth observing system to support the fight against climate change and achieving net zero.

The project will work with government, academia, industry and international partners. It will capture and translate new climate and environmental challenges of the UK and its surrounding waters into a set of mission technologies and concepts, that will help the UK prepare for future challenges.

Small satellite calibration facility

The project will build a national centre for calibrating and testing small, cube and nano satellites, which will de-risk missions for UK businesses and help overcome the barriers that frequently block new space technologies from launching satellites.

Aimed at supporting smaller companies, start-ups and SMEs, it will give UK companies a competitive edge in international markets and provide improved data quality and reliability for their EO missions.

UK/Australia EO AgroClimate programme

This programme will fund projects that use EO data and technology to address the national and global challenge of optimising agricultural productivity in a changing climate.

The projects will bring together the best researchers from the UK and Australia to develop EO solutions optimising and monitoring agriculture productivity and climate change.

Surface temperature radiometer network

The project will build and deploy a network of radiometers designed to measure surface temperatures to very high accuracy that will be used to validate the data produced by the constellations of infrared remote sensing satellites.

This will improve the accuracy of the data generated, directly impacting weather and climate forecasts.

Innovate UK (£4.21 million)

Innovate in EO programme

This activity will fund a variety of industrial research projects that are focused on the uses of EO for novel commercial applications. These projects will de-risk the development of new technology and applications that will grow businesses in the UK.

Other UK organisations working on the further 9 projects include the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the Met Office.

Top image:  Image of CO2 levels across the Earth, November 2022. Credit: National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO).

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