New research will use space telescopes to monitor energy efficiency of buildings

The University of Cambridge is one of 21 organisations awarded a share of over £7 million in funding meant to put the UK at the forefront of the latest advances in space innovation.


Normally I point my telescope at the stars but by pointing it at the Earth I can help address a really important issue

Ian Parry


The funding will support companies and universities with radical ideas for how we tackle climate change through earth observation or address satellite communications challenges, from providing greater connectivity to remote places to increasing the efficiency of our homes.

Dr Ian Parry from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy has been awarded funding for high-resolution thermal infrared space telescopes for monitoring the energy efficiency of buildings.

Thermal infrared (TIR) earth observation telescopes in low earth orbit can monitor the energy output of buildings. Parry and his collaborators will build and develop a prototype for the continuous alignment required for a space telescope, as well as developing end-user climate change cases for TIR telescope.

"This technology can give us a global health check to let us know if the world is on target to meet its carbon emissions targets. It also makes it clear who needs to act and what they have to do if the targets aren’t being met," said Parry. "It’s a bit like trying to get someone to give up smoking. The person knows it’s bad for them and they have good intentions and make promises, but they still fall short of what they need to do until they get a worrying wake-up call from a medical examination."

Governments sign up to agreements but it’s the behaviour of organisations and individuals that will deliver - or not - the required actions. This technology will allow governments across the world, including our own, to deliver what was promised.

The technology will identify anything bigger than about five metres across that is using large amounts of energy, such as buildings, houses, aircraft, ships or trucks.

"Normally I point my telescope at the stars but by pointing it at the Earth I can help address a really important issue," said Parry.

"We want the UK to be a world leader in space technology which is why we are supporting our most ambitious innovators who are developing technologies to help solve some of our greatest challenges," said Science Minister Amanda Solloway. "From slashing carbon emissions to protecting the UK’s critical services from harmful cyber-attacks, today’s funding will unshackle our most entrepreneurial space scientists so that they can transfer their revolutionary ideas into world class products and services, while helping to boost the UK economy."

The funding comes from the UK Space Agency’s National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP), which is the first UK fund dedicated to supporting the space sector’s development of innovations, allowing us to compete internationally on the world stage with other countries, like France and Germany, which have dedicated national funding for space.

Businesses, universities and research organisations were awarded co-funding for projects that will help the space sector create new high-skill jobs, while developing new skills and technologies on UK soil. Grants from the £15 million funding pot range from between £170,000 and £1.4 million per project.

"Space technologies have become deeply embedded in, and critical to, almost every aspect of our daily lives," said Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency. "With rapid technological innovation, space offers a broad and growing range of opportunities to support economic activity and protect the environment. From the satellites connecting our calls to the ones that tell us when to expect rain when we step outside, space technologies are fundamental to our day-to-day lives.Our space sector is constantly advancing and welcoming new ideas, and through this funding we are championing the best of this British innovation."

In addition, £5 million of the programme funding has been set aside for international projects, which will focus on increasing exports and securing new inward investment, supporting UK science and the prosperity agenda by funding working relationships between world-leading researchers and institutions and developing space capabilities important to the UK’s security interests.

The UK space sector has grown by over 60% since 2010. The industry already supports £300 billion of UK economic activity through the use of satellite services and is expected to grow further as this new Government support unlocks commercial opportunities.

The UK also remains a member of the European Space Agency. ESA membership allows the UK to cooperate in world-leading science on a global scale, enabling UK scientists and researchers access to a range of international R&D programmes.

A bold response to the world’s greatest challenge

The University of Cambridge is building on its existing research and launching an ambitious new environment and climate change initiative.  Cambridge Zero  is not just about developing greener technologies. It will harness the full power of the University’s research and policy expertise, developing solutions that work for our lives, our society and our biosphere.


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