Space-based ‘petrol station’ to be built in UK
Aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space – which maintains a presence in the UK – will construct a chemical refuelling station, to be launched in 2027, to support Nasa’s Lunar Gateway.
The Lunar Gateway is a planned space station which will orbit the moon and serve as a hub for communications, experimentation and as a stepping stone for further space exploration projects, including an eventual crewed mission to Mars. The project will be led by Nasa in collaboration with ESA and other space agencies and is a core part of Nasa’s ambitious Artemis programme of space exploration.
The space station will be refuelled with the help of the first ever space-based “petrol station”, using xenon and other chemical propellants. It is expected to be launched in 2027, three years after the Lunar Gateway.
Thales Alenia Space – a major French-Italian satellite manufacturer headquartered in Cannes and with UK sites in Bristol, Belfast and Harwell (Oxfordshire) – will construct the refuelling station. It is one of several businesses with a UK presence which will play a role in supporting the Lunar Gateway project.
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) said that the participation of UK businesses in the project will generate economic benefits and support high-skilled jobs.
“Creating the first ever space fuel station on British soil is yet another example of how we are leading the world in space innovation, especially as this incredible project will be vital for future exploration of the Moon and Mars,” said Amanda Solloway, the science minister.
“I am delighted that this game-changing technology is going to be supporting nearly 200 high-skilled jobs right here in the UK, increasing our standing as a global space power.”
Earlier this week, the UKSA signed an agreement with Nasa to play a key role in the Artemis programme. In addition to building the Lunar Gateway’s refuelling station, businesses in the UK space sector will be involved with building the service module and habitation module of the space station. The UK has already committed over £16m for the first phase of the design of these components.
The UK has also been involved with the drafting of the ‘Artemis Accords’: a proposed set of principles governing behaviour in space, such as exploitation of space resources and handling of space debris.