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Plants in space project receives UK–Australia funding

A project that aims to ensure plants can grow well in space is among three recipients of joint funding by the UK and Australia.

The ‘Autonomous Agriculture for Space Exploration initiative’ will include contributions from local universities and the South Australian Space Industry Centre.

The three projects – listed in full at the bottom of this article – have been chosen under phase two of the UK’s £20 million (A$40 million) International Bilateral Fund and the Australian Space Agency’s International Space Investment Fund.

The other recipients include a plan to provide data on the status of critical ecosystems and a project to accelerate the creation of an international institute on AI for space safety and sustainability.


Enrico Palermo, head of the Australian Space Agency, said, “By working with our international partners like the UK, we can continue to grow the Australian space sector while delivering outcomes that benefit communities in both of our nations.

“The projects being supported through this fund reiterate how space can help address the biggest global challenges we are facing – as well as the power of working together to solve a common problem.”

Dr Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said its International Bilateral Fund combines UK expertise with global talent.

“This important investment from the Australian Space Agency strengthens our existing collaboration through the Space Bridge and will support innovative projects that bring together organisations from across our two nations,” said Dr Bate.


“Australia is a key international partner, and together, we are breaking new ground and using the vast power of space to protect and benefit lives on Earth.”

It comes after Space Connect reported in February how the two countries’ ‘Space Bridge’ partnership marked its third anniversary.

The deal, signed on 23 February 2021, facilitates collaboration on trade and investment, research and education, and encourages the two governments to work together.

However, the relationship between the two countries’ sectors can be traced back to the late 1960s, when the UK launched Black Arrow, a satellite carrier rocket, from Woomera, SA.

“The UK-Australia Space Bridge connects us with our Australian colleagues,” said Dr Bate.

“It has unlocked greater innovation, promoted the exchange of knowledge, and forged new partnerships.

“Above all, it has bolstered a sense of collaborative ambition to strengthen both space sectors, as the team that recently went out to Australia saw first-hand.”

Australia’s space industry has several similar deals with other traditionally smaller space nations, including Italy, Japan and India.

Autonomous Agriculture for Space Exploration

This project will make step-change improvements to vertical farming technologies. It will also ensure that plants survive longer and grow well in space, among other broader benefits on Earth.

AUS Partners: University of Adelaide, University of Western Australia, University of Southern Queensland, South Australian Space Industry Centre

UK-Lead: Vertical Future Ltd

UK Partners: University of Cambridge, Axiom Space, Saber Astronautics

AI for Space Operations, Safety and Sustainability

This project will accelerate the foundations for the creation of an international Institute on AI for space safety and sustainability that will position Australia and UK at the forefront of research and innovation in this field.

AUS Partners: Nominal Systems

UK-Lead: University of Strathclyde

UK Partners: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Arizona, University of Waterloo, Columbiad, GMV UK, LIFT ME OFF LTD, The Alan Turing Institute.

Aquawatch UK (space-enabled water management)

This project will provide data on the status of critical ecosystems such as coastal mangroves and facilitate the reduction in agricultural pollution through targeted fertiliser applications.

AUS Partners: Airbus Australia Pacific, CSIRO, Smartsat CRC

UK-Lead: Surrey Satellite Technology Limited

UK Partners: Assimila, RAL Space, Pixalytics, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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