How can space higher education in the UK adapt to meet the growing demand of downstream applications?

A summary of the Downstream Applications workshop organised by the Space Universities Network (SUN).

On Thursday 28th June, SUN hosted a workshop on Downstream Applications at the Satellite Applications Catapult headquarters in Harwell. SUN is a network of over 50 space science and engineering staff from 28 Higher Education institutions with the aim of creating a skilled workforce of graduates who can meet the challenges of future space exploration, alongside promoting effective practice​ and innovation in the delivery of University space science and engineering education.

The objective of the workshop was to provide an opportunity to discuss the importance of the downstream applications and opportunities that space derived data have in industry. The workshop was sponsored by the UK Space Agency and the IET and was well attended by Universities and industry participants.

The workshop was opened by Ian Raper of University College London who highlighted some of the targets set out in the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014-2030 published by the UK Government. Most notably that of increasing UK market share to 10% by 2030. Ian concluded by emphasising the importance of sharing best practice within the Space Universities Network so as to equip graduates with the relevant skills to deliver on these ambitious targets.

Sam Adlen, Head of Business Innovation at the Satellite Applications Catapult, then discussed the role that the Catapult will have in helping organisations grow their business. The targets set out by the UK Government give the potential for the creation of 10-30,000 new jobs in the UK and the launch of over 1300 satellites over the next 3 years.

Following on, Tim Vallings of Rezatec, demonstrated the capabilities of downstream data analytics in the water, agriculture and forestry sectors. His impressive web platform showed an example of Rezatec’s capabilities, mapping diseased sweet chestnut trees using satellite images with a 10m resolution.

The morning session concluded with Nick Appleyard, Head of Business Applications at the European Space Agency. He stated that 45% of ESA’s satellite business applications investment is to be focused in the UK, in part due to the contribution from the UK Government to ESA’s funding, reinforcing the importance of focus on the downstream space application sector. Nick closed with a message about upskilling the workforce and the important role that universities played in this.

Owen Hawkins of Earth-i , kicked off the afternoon session demonstrating some of the impressive developments occurring in satellite video data by using large constellations of small satellites. The temporal and spatial advances offered by such technology were substantial with Owen stating that this was a “new dimension of space data”.

The final talk of the day was given by Kathie Bowden, from the UK Space Agency. She shared some interesting examples of the application of space data including the monitoring of marine litter by ARGANS in Plymouth, the quantification of congested marine environment by SCISYS in Bristol and monitoring of the Saddleworth Moor fires. Kathie stated the importance of collaboration between departments at each University, explaining that many University lecturers are unaware of complementary research being conducted in other departments at their own University.

To conclude the day’s proceedings, attendees were split into two discussion groups that focused on the type of skilled graduates that future downstream application jobs will be seeking and how University teaching can incorporate downstream applications in their teaching. It was concluded that future graduates should have the following skills:

·         Excellent interpersonal skills

·         Multi-disciplinary attitude

·         Someone who has ideas and innovation

·         Entrepreneurial attitude

·         Internships/Placements

·         Theses in industry

·         Machine learning understanding/proficiency

·         Data processing and visualisation skills

·         Problem solving and creativity

·         Proficiency in programming languages such as Python

Over the next few months SUN will be working with the Satellite Applications Catapult to produce materials that will aid Universities in equipping their students with the required skills for future roles within the space industry.

Overall, signs suggest that there will be many high-value space careers available in the UK in the future, it is simply the question of whether graduates from Universities in the UK will be able to fill these roles. It is organisations such as the Space Universities Network that are seeking to ensure that space higher education in the UK is of the highest standard and is adapting to the changing space industry so as to produce highly skilled graduates capable of filling these positions.

Want to find out more about the Space Universities Network? Visit SUN’s website here.


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