Bangor University is leading one of eight projects funded by the UK Space Agency to revolutionise our ability to journey deeper into space – and even travel to Mars.
The £1.6 million funding will support research to make space travel both safer and more efficient, using remote technologies and supplies found in space to sustain astronauts and spacecraft.
The research to be funded at Bangor University, led by Dr Phylis Makurunje, will use additive manufacturing techniques to create nuclear-based fuels for space propulsion. Such stable nuclear fuel systems are vital to enabling deep space missions.
The new processes being developed by scientists from Bangor’s Nuclear Futures Institute will enable the development and manufacture of various fuel configurations and designs that cannot be easily realised by conventional manufacturing methods. The research will demonstrate the additive manufacturing of metallic and ceramic zirconium-containing nuclear fuels and assess their performance.
Professor in Nuclear Materials and Co-director of the Nuclear Futures Institute at Bangor University, Prof Simon Middleburgh said: “This project will harness the expertise in nuclear fuels which we have within the Nuclear Futures Institute and apply it to one of the most exciting applications possible: space exploration. Once a spacecraft travels beyond our planet, it can no longer rely on the Sun for energy. Nuclear power is the only way we currently have to provide the power for that length of space travel.”
Minister of State with responsibility for Space at the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman, said:
“Space is the ultimate frontier, laboratory and technology testbed.
The UK’s long history of leadership in deep space science and exploration is key to both understanding our solar system and origins of life, and creating opportunities for our high growth SpaceTech sector.
Today’s funding is part of the government’s strategy to use our £5 billion investment in space science and technology to grow our £16.5 billion commercial space sector to create the businesses, jobs and opportunities of tomorrow, and the space clusters from Cornwall to Scotland.”
Dr Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said:
“The concept of exploring deeper into space – whether that means retuning to the lunar surface through the Artemis programme, or working out how we could travel to, and survive on, Mars and beyond – is a global ambition that has been growing since humanity’s first forays into space in the 1950s.
Supporting technologies that make that ambition a reality will help raise the international profile of UK space skills and expertise. Not only does this naturally unlock business opportunities all along the supply chain, but it helps inspire young people to consider the possibility of a career in space without having to leave the UK.
This is an incredibly exciting time for the space exploration sector, and I look forward to seeing how far the results of these projects will reach.”
The latest report on the size and health of the UK space sector showed that at least 47,000 people are employed in space-related jobs across almost 1,300 UK-based space organisations. It also reported a 19% increase in space-related research and development investment up to 2021.