Innovate UK KTN joins consortium running European Space Agency's accelerator for advanced materials

Posted on: 09/08/2022
Image of the International Space Station with Earth in the background. The ISS can host research for advanced materials.

Space exploration has always been a driver of technological and industrial innovation. Developing new products and services by taking advantage of the conditions offered by the Earth’s orbit opens new opportunities for finding technical solutions that respond to the industry challenges, while giving a powerful boost to a new economic sector of huge commercial potential.

Innovate UK KTN is part of the consortium running the first phase of the new Advanced Materials Accelerator, an initiative of ESA’s Business in Space Growth Network (BSGN), to promote these opportunities for engineering novel materials in microgravity. These conditions make it possible to manufacture materials of much higher quality and performance compared to those developed on Earth.

The BSGN Accelerator will be run by a new consortium of six leading European space and materials technology companies and market specialists: Satellite Applications Catapult (project lead), Innovate UK KTN, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the Technological Institute of Plastics (AIMPLAS), the DLR Institute of Material Research, and the National Composites Centre (NCC).

The BSGN Accelerator has three phases, with the first phase designed to generate interest and demand, and support projects and businesses with commercial potential that could develop products and services in space. The activity will focus on five advanced materials technology areas:

  • Superalloys and hybrid materials
  • Nanomaterials
  • Advanced ceramics
  • Novel polymers and fibres  
  • Functional coatings and thin film systems.

The consortium will identify innovations within these categories that can use the microgravity environment to create new technical solutions to known industry and engineering challenges.

Dr Neelam Mughal, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Advanced Materials, said:

Advanced materials are at the epicentre of many technological revolutions we are seeing today. Space is no exception – microgravity and the space environment present a truly unique approach to the processing of advanced materials. Controlling the microstructure and tailoring the microscale properties of these materials will accelerate the development of the space ecosystem, unlocking new materials capabilities for both Earth and Space. It’s truly an exciting time for the advanced materials and manufacturing communities and I can’t wait to witness the new spheres of innovation for Space.

As part of the consortium, Innovate UK KTN will be leading on the following BSGN activities:

  • Technology assessments and market validation of specific advanced materials and how microgravity can be leveraged for high value sectors with unmet technical challenges
  • Raising awareness of the microgravity opportunity and presenting value proposition to the materials, manufacturing and targeted user communities
  • Convening stakeholder communities (end-users, innovators, investors, space sector, materials and manufacturing experts) in targeted workshops
  • Gathering primary data on the interests, needs and barriers of innovative companies with regards to microgravity R&D
  • Providing a forum for collaboration and new cross-sector partnerships
  • Dissemination and awareness of funding call
  • Engagement strategy
  • Innovation support.

Future phases will focus on upscaling the opportunities identified in phase one in each area, including in-orbit demonstrations and the delivery of prototype products. The first phase has a budget of €411,000, 67% of which was funded by ESA and 33% through an in-kind contribution from the project partners. The programme aims to guarantee at least €1 million in funding for future phases from ESA up to a maximum of €5 million.


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