The UK Space Agency has announced £20 million ($26.1m) in funding for aerial connectivity projects.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology Chloe Smith announced the funding this week to support the development of future telecommunications technologies and aerial connectivity projects, which would be used onboard drones or high-altitude platforms to provide wireless coverage.

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The agency said companies can bid for the funding to develop “innovative aerial services and technologies” including drone delivery, connectivity for emergency services, or rural connectivity.

“From using drones to quickly get medicines to hospitals, through to boosting mobile network access in remote areas, the benefits of aerial connectivity cut through many aspects of our lives,” said Technology Secretary Chloe Smith. “The Government’s £20 million investment will further strengthen the UK’s fast-growing satellite communications industry, which already contributes more than £10 billion to our economy and supports over 26,000 jobs. It will improve our health and security, too, and support our plan to level up every part of the UK.”

Part of the ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems) program, the call for submissions is being run in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and is set to run from July 11 to September 1, 2023.

The funding will focus on three main areas: Drones, High-Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS), and High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE).

Companies can bid for funding to develop future telecommunications technologies and aerial connectivity projects, which use drones or high-altitude platforms to provide wireless coverage. There is no upper or lower limit on individual projects.

The agency said applicants should ensure that they have demonstrated a “well-considered approach” that identifies the potential and long-lasting benefits, demonstrate a good understanding of their target market, and detail projected financial returns.

“The UK has a strong track record for innovation in telecommunications and we are proud to work with our UK partners to develop innovative technologies that will support industries across the economy by boosting aerial connectivity,” said Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General. “This activity demonstrates the excellent cooperation between the UK and ESA, and is a great example of how the seamless connectivity delivered by space-enabled 5G is set to transform society and industry.”

HAPS – whether they be airships, balloons, or fixed-wing drones – offer a way to provide connectivity to rural and unconnected areas from high altitudes without the upfront costs of cell towers or satellites or the need for specialist receivers. UK firms including BAE and Stratospheric Platforms are developing high altitude platforms.

Chris McLaughlin, Secretary of the HAPS Alliance, added: “The investment underscores the industry’s commitment to future telecommunications and reinforces partnerships within the space community, driving transformative advancements in aerial connectivity.”