The UK Space Agency is to provide an additional £10.7 million to a UK team to replace a Russian-made instrument on the Rosalind Franklin Mars rover, aiming to launch in 2028.
The Mars rover, which was built by Airbus in Stevenage as part of a European Space Agency programme, was due to launch in 2022 before collaboration with Russia’s space agency was cancelled following the invasion of Ukraine.
The additional funding for a team led by the University of Aberystwyth brings the total government investment in the Rosalind Franklin, through the UK Space Agency, to £377 million.
The new funding will allow the UK team to build the new instrument, named Enfys, or rainbow in Welsh. It will identify targets on the surface of Mars for sampling and analysis, which could in turn reveal evidence of life on the Red Planet.
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Enfys will work with University College London’s (UCL) Mullard Space team’s panoramic camera to identify minerals and enable the rover to drill for samples to be analysed by other instruments on board.
“We learned a lot during the development and testing of PanCam and it is a privilege to be leading the fantastic team of people who will put that knowledge into practice once again to develop a new instrument for the mission,” said Dr Matt Gunn, Principal Investigator on Enfys at Aberystwyth University.
“The UK-built Rosalind Franklin rover is a truly world-leading piece of technology at the frontier of space exploration. It is fantastic that experts from the UK can also provide a key instrument for this mission, using UK Space Agency funding,” Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency,
“As well as boosting world-class UK space technology to further our understanding of Mars and its potential to host life, this extra funding will strengthen collaboration across the fast-growing UK space sector and economy.”
This follows £47m this year to boost activity and innovation in the Earth observation sector as the UK re-enters Copernicus from January 2024. The fund will support businesses that use Earth observation data including small and medium enterprises, to explore new projects and bolster the economy, with around 18% of UK GDP underpinned by satellite services.
There are also £15 million of calls are now open under the £60 million European Space Agency Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems programme, allocated to the UK’s Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit scheme. This will fund the next generation of satellite communications development and boost the UK’s leadership in the ever-growing satellite market for the next 10-15 years.
It will support UK-based suppliers in developing the technologies needed to build the next generation of low Earth orbit satcom satellites for connectivity in remote and rural parts of UK.