CASPA: Cold Atom Space Payload

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


New developments in Quantum Technology have resulted in the ability to cool atoms close to absolute zero using lasers. At these temperatures, laboratory experiments have shown that these "cold atoms" can be used as ultra-sensitive sensors for measuring gravity. CASPA will translate leading UK science into commercial products for space and other markets. It will take the technology out of the laboratory and build it into a small satellite payload that is capable of producing "cold atoms" in space. Demonstrating this new technology in space is a vital first step towards realising real instruments that are capable of mapping tiny changes in the strength of gravity across the surface of the earth. The extreme sensitivity brought by "cold atom" sensors will provide the ability to finely monitor the movement of mass within earth systems. This has multiple applications including more accurate monitoring of changes in polar ice mass, ocean currents and sea level. Higher resolution data will lead to the ability to monitor smaller water sources and new underground natural resources which are currently not detectable. Similar technology will also be used for deep space navigation and for providing higher precision timing sources in space.

Planned Impact

CASPA will impact several groups:

1. The initial impact will be within the industrial partners of the project, who will develop capability and technology which will supplement existing, and open new, revenue streams, while positioning them to act as core components of future space missions. This includes the development of component parts, which can be marketed through existing streams, and development of sub-systems which will see an initial market within the research environment. In particular, CASPA will connect and establish three new companies as part of the UK quantum supply chain, and provide new UK solutions and capability through the development of the Covesion frequency doubler.

2. In the 0-5 year term, this will impact upon the clients of the industrial partners, through the provision of new components and capabilities, offering new competitive solutions.

3. Also in the 0-5 year term, enhancement of the quantum technology supply chain through development for space will impact future integrators of quantum technology systems, including academics from the cold atoms and atomic quantum technology research community and industry systems integrators, allowing the former to more quickly demonstrate potential applications and realise impact driven research, creating market pull, and the latter to more quickly bring quantum technology platforms to market, creating market benefits.

4. In the 5-10 year term and growing significantly in the 10-25 year term, impact upon systems integrators will have a follow-on impact on future end-users, allowing them to achieve benefit within commercial applications. This includes a wide range of potential end-users, for a variety of sensor types such as inertial/gravity (civil engineers, geologists, archaeologists), and clocks (metrologists and timing providers), creating impact in sectors such as communication, energy, finance, healthcare, transport, maritime, aerospace and defence. This will have a growing and persistent impact on both economy and society, through aspects such as reduced congestion in road and rail traffic (pre-emptive maintenance), more secure transactions (financial timestamping), sustainable cities (better use of underground space) and improved navigation (resilience against loss of GPS).

5. Demonstration of a space-ready cold atom package will increase confidence and reduce technology barriers towards in-orbit cold atom missions. This will impact those exploiting future cold atom systems in space by accelerating adoption, ranging across stakeholders such as scientists exploring fundamental questions, climatologists, and ocean circulation scientists. In the 10-25 year term, this will enable societal benefits through a better understanding of fundamental science and of our planet, and environmental benefits through observing and mitigating our effect on the environment.

6. In the 10-25 year term, access to improved global data on resource and disaster management, such as flooding or drought, will have societal impact through future policy makers in allowing them to make informed decisions on issues such as resource exploitation strategy and to pre-emptive disaster mitigation.

7. In the 5-10 and growing significantly in the 10-25 year term, the public will benefit through improved services and service structures, initially through terrestrial applications which arisen through near-field exploitation but later through economic and societal benefits arising from space-borne quantum sensing.

Dissemination: CASPA will disseminate widely, while protecting competitive advantage for industrial partners, in order to connect the project outputs to impact stakeholders - key focus will be placed upon space primes, in order to best strive towards in-orbit demonstrations and remove adoption barriers.


10 25 50
Description First realisation of a cube-sat type cold atom system in progress.
Exploitation Route In building future quantum technology satellites. We have now been able to create significant interest from the European Space Agency and are engaging with the UK geophysics community to develop this further.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description This has raised significant commercial interest from companies and space agencies worldwide. We are expecting this to contribute to future space missions using cold atoms. We held and end-user workshop with the UK geophysics community in January 2019 and are using CASPA as he basis for new projects towards Space missions. Since 2019 two new projects in partnership with industry have emerged, one on the development of a satellite payload for geophysics research and one for a satellite payload for atmospheric drag measurements. The atmospheric drag mission has been taken forward in two industry-led projects by UKSA: Q-ACE and Q-ACE2.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description CASPA Accelerometer
Amount £747,118 (GBP)
Organisation UK Space Agency 
Department Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2020 
End 04/2022
Description Gravity Delve
Amount £424,982 (GBP)
Funding ID 133991 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 04/2021
Description Engagement with an international space agency on future collaboration 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Discussion on roadmap for space applications of quantum sensors
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Towards quantum technology for borehole gravity sensors 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact An article in Civil Engineering Surveyor discussing our progress in quantum technology sensing, contributed by Jamie Vovrosh and Dan Boddice from the research team (QT Hub, Gravity Pioneer, Gravity Delve). This has helped connect to end users and industry in the supply chain for borehole applications and other areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020