UK space expertise granted funding to help solve global challenges

An effort to monitor illegal gold mining in Columbia is one of 10 UK-based projects that will share £38m in funding to help solve global challenges with British space technology and expertise.

The funding has come from the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP), which is worth £152m over five years and partners UK space expertise with governments and organisation in developing and emerging economies. All IPP projects are match-funded by consortium members and international partners to ensure maximum value for money.

The successful projects are led by organisations from the UK’s growing space sector, including large companies such as Inmarsat and CGI, to start-ups such as Guildford-based Earth-i.

An existing project already delivering benefits includes a partnership between Inmarsat and the Philippine government to reduce the impact of natural disasters using satellite communications. It was called into action in December and January when tropical storms killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands more to evacuation centres.

The project used British space technology and expertise to help relief workers get information in and out of the disaster zones which greatly increased the effectiveness of the response effort.

ESA Sentinel image

Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat, said: “Inmarsat was originally founded to save lives at sea and we are proud that, almost 40 years later, our robust, reliable satellite communication services are deployed throughout the world to assist following natural disasters and humanitarian crises, wherever they occur.

“With the invaluable support of the UK Space Agency, we have been able to pre-equip disaster response teams in the Philippines with vital satellite communications solutions. This meant that when two deadly cyclones hit the country over a two-week period, resulting in loss of life and serious damage to terrestrial communications infrastructure, Philippine authorities were able to utilise Inmarsat’s mobile connectivity services to assess the damage and identify the needs of those regions most affected.”

Projects include:

Satellite Applications Catapult, Didcot: Space Enabled Monitoring of Illegal Gold Mining
Grant: £3.3m
Target country: Colombia
Theme: Mining

This project is about improving detection and efficiency in monitoring illegal gold mining in remote forested areas in Colombia. The project will make use of freely available Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, and incorporate machine-learning techniques to show suspected areas of illegal mining, in a user-friendly web portal. The project will support the promotion of safe and secure working environments for all workers, and a reduction in the health-related effects from the high rates of mercury contamination associated with illegal mining.

EARTH-i Ltd, Guildford: ACCORD
Grant: £2.7m
Target countries: Kenya and Rwanda
Theme: Agriculture

Coffee is the second most traded commodity globally, with revenues directly benefitting farmers in developing countries.  Despite this, in Kenya and Rwanda, 67% and 80% of people respectively live in poverty, including most smallholder coffee farmers. Unpredictable weather, pests, diseases, nutrient depletion and other factors limit earning potential by hitting coffee quality and quantity. ACCORD will deliver advice from satellite Earth Observation to help smallholder coffee farmers make significant improvements to crop quality and yield, providing them with access to timely, geo-targeted advice through a simple mobile application.  This will allow smallholder farmers to achieve higher incomes for their work, improving quality of life for their families.

CGI, Leatherhead: Peatland Assessment in SE Asia by Satellite (PASSES)
Grant: £2m
Target Countries: Indonesia, Malaysia

Theme: Forestry

Tropical forest fires affect over 20 million people in South East Asia, leading to significant deteriorations in public health and premature mortalities as well as contributing to global CO2 emissions and other negative environmental impacts. Many fires occur over drained peatland areas. This project will use satellite observations and measurements to map peat condition, even when under a forest canopy. By monitoring water levels and improving hydrology in the peatland areas, the risk of fire can be dramatically reduced. By using freely available observations from satellites through the EU Copernicus programme and use of emerging industrial hosted processing capabilities, PASSES will prove that peatland monitoring is a cost-effective way to reduce forest fires.

United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR): CommonSensing
Grant: £9.6m
Target Countries: Fiji, The Solomon Islands, Vanuatu

The overall aim of CommonSensing is to improve resilience towards climate change, including disaster risk reduction, and contribute to sustainable development in three selected Commonwealth Small Island Developing States (SIDS): Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The project will combine earth observation data to provide stakeholders with access to important information regarding disaster risks (including disaster risk planning, food security, climate risk and other environmental concerns). This information will be accessible to beneficiaries through a web portal and mobile applications.

CommonSensing project will create long-term investment loops, define priorities for future climate funds proposals and ensure a sustainable service-platform, running three years after IPP project ends.