SBRI: UK Space Agency refuelling feasibility study

The UK Space Agency seeks feasibility studies to refuel the National Active Debris Removal Mission satellite and a commercial satellite.

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Up to 4 projects will be funded in phase 1, at up to £500k per project. SBRI competitions involve procurement of R&D services at a fair market value and are not subject to subsidy control criteria that typically apply to grant funding.


UK Space Agency

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This is a Small Business Research initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the UK Space Agency.

The aim of the competition is to undertake feasibility studies to refuel the National Active Debris Removal Mission and a commercial client/customer satellite.

This feasibility study(ies) has 2 key goals:

  1. refuel the national ADR mission allowing a potential third client to be deorbited
  2. after the national ADR refuelling demonstration, refuel a commercial client/additional partner

The challenge to be addressed by the successful team(s) can be summarised as follows:

  • elaborate the requirements for a mission which meets goal 1 of the study i.e. capable of refuelling the UK ADR satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO)
  • elaborate the requirements for a mission which meets goal 2 of the study i.e. capable of refuelling a commercial client/additional partner
  • develop a baseline design that responds to the technical requirements – providing confidence that the mission is feasible within the technical, programmatic, and financial constraints, which also defines what those constraints may be. Identify risks and propose realistic mitigations, establish plans for further development in the subsequent phases of the mission lifecycle
  • The capability to refuel a satellite will allow operators to operate in a more sustainable manner by moving away from “one shot” satellite builds to platforms which can be modularised, upgradable and more mission-capable due to not being limited to the single tank of fuel they are launched with. Refuelling will allow satellites to have increasingly large amounts of payload dedicated to instruments instead of a fuel tank. As orbits, LEO (Low Earth Orbit) in particular, get more congested, the manoeuvring needed to avoid collisions, which currently shortens a satellite’s lifespan, will be able to be countered by refuelling which will extend mission lifespan.

    In Orbit Servicing (IOS) missions are likely to be a key tool in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the outer space environment. Whilst the commercial market for IOS services is still maturing, the market for IOS services could be worth up to $2 billion to the UK by 2030. The potential economic gain from conducting IOS missions could, for the UK, be matched by longer term strategic benefits by being among the first movers in this new market. For example, developing the national skills, expertise and robotics capability needed to conduct IOS will enable UK industry to support other ambitious space projects like orbital assembly or space-based power generation.

  • The UK has launched 2 studies to preliminarily define a national Active Debris Removal (ADR) mission. This mission will build and grow UK capability in ADR and also grow key technologies such as Close Proximity Operations (CPO) and RPO which have cross-over use for IOS capability. Crucially, one of the mission requirements for the national ADR mission is to be refuellable, with each satellite design having a refuelling interface, offering a perfect client to test and derisk new and innovative refuelling and servicing technology.

    The UK is also keen to grow and expand the nascent IOSM market and recognises that it cannot do this through institutional missions alone. This feasibility study(ies) has 2 key goals:

    1. refuel the national ADR mission allowing a potential third client to be deorbited
    2. after the national ADR refuelling demonstration, refuel a commercial client/additional partner as part of a shared cost initiative which allows the commercial client to benefit from the significant de-risking delivered by refuelling the national ADR mission gaining them low cost service life extension and attracting additional funding to offset total mission costs.
  • To lead a project, you can:

    • be an organisation of any size
    • work alone or with other organisations as subcontractors
    • must have a valid UK bank account capable of accepting BACS payments
    • must be able to provide reporting against North Star Metric (see below)

    In addition to ongoing reporting, successful applicants will be expected to provide the UK Space Agency with 6-monthly updates on North Star Metrics during the course of project delivery, and information on the impact of funding support up to 10 years after project completion.

  • Phase 1 projects can range in size up to total costs of £500K, inclusive of VAT.

    This is phase 1 of a potential 2 phase competition. The decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1 and assessment of a separate application into a subsequent phase 2 competition.

    A total of up to £2 million, inclusive of VAT, is allocated to this competition/phase 1.

    The Phase 1 feasibility study research and development (R&D) contracts will be up to £500,000, inclusive of VAT, for each project for up to 8 months. We expect to fund up to 4 projects.

  • Your application must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively to R&D services, including solution exploration and design. R&D can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service. This lets you incorporate the results of your exploration and design and demonstrate that you can produce in quantity to acceptable quality standards.

    R&D does not include:

    • commercial development activities such as quantity production
    • supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
    • integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

    We will not fund projects that:

    • are not original in scope and duplicates someone else’s work
    • have significant overlap with projects being funded elsewhere in the Agency or parts of UK government
  • If you have any questions about the scope requirements of this competition, email

    If you would like help to find a collaboration partner, contact Innovate UK KTN’s Space team.


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