• Status: Closed

  • Key features: Innovate UK and the UK Space agency are to invest funding partners up to £2m in collaborative R&D projects to support continued business and technical innovation in spacecraft propulsion systems.

  • Programme: Collaborative research and development

  • Award: up to £2 million

  • Opens: 19 Jan 2015, 00:00

  • Registration closes: 11 Mar 2015, 12:00

  • Closes: 18 Mar 2015, 12:00

  • Support phone number: 0300 321 4357

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Stimulating innovation in spacecraft propulsion

Competition results

See here for competition results.


UK Space Agency logo

Innovate UK and the UK Space agency are to invest funding partners up to £2m in collaborative R&D projects to support continued business and technical innovation in spacecraft propulsion systems. 


We are seeking proposals that improve the commercial benefits and/or performance of future space missions. 


Proposals must be collaborative and led by a business. We expect to fund mainly industrial research projects in which a business partner will generally attract up to 50% public funding for their project costs (60% for SMEs). 


We expect projects to range in size from total costs of £250,000 to £500,000, although we may consider projects outside this range. 


This competition opens for applicants on 19 January 2015. The deadline for registration is at noon on 11 March 2015 and the deadline for applications is at noon on 18 March 2015. 


A briefing and networking event for potential applicants will be held at the Satellite Applications Catapult, Harwell, on 21 January 2015. An additional networking event aimed at the small and nano-satellite community will be held in Glasgow on 29 January 2015



This competition will support innovation in spacecraft propulsion. It is part of the ‘space foundations' activity announced in our 2014-15 Delivery Plan, and is in line with the vision and aims of the National Space Technology Strategy and its technology roadmaps. 


Spacecraft propulsion subsystems perform a number of critical roles over the course of a mission – from acquiring initial orbit position and maintaining spacecraft pointing, to safely disposing of the satellite at mission end, either by sending it into a ‘graveyard orbit' or by causing re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. 


Propulsion systems account for a significant part of a spacecraft's mass, but are not generally seen to add commercial value to a mission. Instruments, antennas or the number of power amplifiers, for example, are more directly linked to revenue generation. The recent trend towards electric propulsion for orbit transfer on communication satellites, however, has demonstrated that innovation in propulsion can save tens of millions of pounds in launch cost. 


We aim to encourage new ways of adding value to a spacecraft through innovation in propulsion subsystems. 


We are seeking projects that develop technical and/or business innovation in spacecraft propulsion systems for large and medium-sized satellite platforms as well as for small/nano-satellites, for example CubeSat platforms, constellations or deployments. 
The following areas are in scope: 
  • innovative propulsion technology for optimisation of mission operations and cost 
  • green propellants/clean-space technologies and applications 
  • advanced manufacturing techniques 
  • novel propulsion systems for de-orbiting or orbit-raising (for example, electric, nuclear or solar sail) 
  • manoeuvring for debris removal and de-orbiting concepts 
  • manoeuvring for increased mission capability, including attitude and control sensors 
  • new satellite applications enabled by novel spacecraft propulsion techniques or technologies 
The list is not exhaustive and we will consider other innovative ideas for in-orbit propulsion. Note that launchers and space plane propulsion are not in scope for this competition. 
Propulsion system innovation is not limited to making smaller, cheaper and lighter versions of today's systems but also includes using propulsion to enhance space missions in new ways – operating in large formations, for example. 
Projects should ideally gather thinking across the whole value chain – from the small launcher provider, to the operator/ service provider, prime manufacturer, and subsystem and component manufacturers. 
The European Space Agency Clean Space initiative encompasses both green technologies to mitigate the environmental impacts of space programmes on Earth and also space technologies to reduce space debris. Green propulsion technologies across all space market segments with commercial applications are in scope, as are mitigating the effects of space debris and its elimination. 

Funding allocation and project details

Innovate UK and the UK Space Agency have allocated up to £2 million to fund collaborative R&D projects that address the technical challenges outlined in the scope.

Successful applicants can attract grant funding towards their eligible project costs. The percentage of costs that we pay varies, depending on the type of research being carried out and the type of organisation involved. 

For this competition projects must be business-led and collaborative. They should last up to 1 year. We are primarily seeking to fund industrial research with a business partner attracting 50% public funding for their project costs (60% for SMEs). 

We expect projects to range in size from £250,000 to £500,000. We may consider larger projects but applicants should discuss this with us before making their application.

Projects could include universities, subsystem providers or spacecraft prime manufacturers. Involvement/participation of either a Catapult (for example the Satellite Applications Catapult or High Value Manufacturing Catapult), a current/ future launch provider or a small-satellite operator would be an advantage in terms of defining end uses and access to emerging markets.

We encourage projects that demonstrate relationship building, joint ventures and consolidation across the propulsion value chain. Projects must demonstrate a strong business case in addition to technical or, business innovation.

To find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME, see: http://ec.europa.eu/small-business/faq/index_en.htm


Application process

This competition opens for applicants on 19 January. Applicants must register by 11 March 2015 and must submit their applications by noon on 18 March 2015


An independent panel of experts assesses applications on individual merit. 


A briefing for potential applicants will be held in the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell on 21 January 2015 to highlight the main features of the competition and explain the application process. Applicants are strongly recommended to attend. 


An additional networking event aimed at the small and nano-satellite community will be held in Glasgow on 29 January 2015. You can register for the events on the _connect website (https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/space/events). 


Note: All deadlines are at noon. 

More information

For more information and all the documents you need to read before you apply, including the Guidance for Applicants, go to the web page at interact.innovateuk.org/ 


To apply you must first register with us through the competition page on the website. Registration opens when the competition opens and closes a week before the deadline for applications. 


Competition helpline: 0300 321 4357 

Email: support@innovateuk.gov.uk 


Help for SMEs to grow faster 


Small businesses that combine the funding they receive from us with additional business support are more likely to grow faster. If you are an SME and receive funding through this competition, you will automatically gain access to a growth workshop, an online diagnostic and a growth expert to help you develop a growth plan. This may include coaching, mentoring and entrepreneurial skills training. 



As part of the application process all applicants are asked to submit a public description of the project. This should adequately describe the project but not disclose any information that may impact on intellectual property, is confidential or commercially sensitive. The titles of successful projects, names of organisations, amounts awarded and the public description will be published once the decision to offer an award has been communicated to applicants by email. Information about unsuccessful project applications will remain confidential and will not be made public.

E-mail pressoffice@innovateuk.gov.uk with any queries. 

Key dates

Competition opens: 19 January 2015 

Harwell briefing and networking event: 21 January 2015 

Glasgow networking event: 29 January 2015 

Registration deadline: noon 11 March 2015 

Deadline for applications: noon 18 March 2015