…if we want our aircraft to land in bad weather, if we want to track the movement of our railway rolling stock, if we want to have precision agriculture, if we want to be able to deliver broadband services to parts of the country that are beyond the reach of fibre-optic cables, then satellite services matter.
Catapult for satellite applications will facilitate the development and commercial exploitation of British space technologies…
David Willetts MP
Earlier this week, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, officially opened the Satellite Applications Catapult: a centre that will facilitate the development and commercial exploitation of British satellite technologies.
The Catapult – part of a network of centres created by the Technology Strategy Board to kick-start the British economy – will play a key role in the UK space industry’s strategy for growth and investment.
Earlier in the day, ESA revealed the name and look of its first-ever UK facility: the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT). Both centres are situated at the Harwell Oxford innovation and business campus.
"The whole reason for [the Satellite Applications Catapult] is to give people the opportunity to make use of a vast range of knowledge and applications that they may not know about, but that could be used in their businesses," said the Duke of York, who officially opened the new innovation centre in his role as Patron of the Harwell Oxford campus. "This isn’t something that big business needs necessarily to have a monopoly on. Knowledge that is garnered here at Harwell, and at other establishments around the country, can be made use of by small- and medium-sized enterprises."
In addition to His Royal Highness, attendees included Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency, David Willetts MP, UK Minister for Universities and Science, Stuart Martin, Chief Executive Officer of the Satellite Applications Catapult, and a host of senior figures from the European space community.
'Satellite services matter'
This facility is one of seven Technology Strategy Board Catapult centres designed to exploit and to build momentum within key growth areas of the British economy. Its counterparts include Catapults for High Value Manufacturing, Cell Therapy, Offshore Renewable Energy, Connected Digital Economy, Transport Systems and Future Cities.
The Satellite Applications Catapult will play a key role in the UK space industry’s strategy for growth and investment
"What’s special about [the Satellite Applications Catapult] is that it is aimed to reach out to parts of the British business community that don’t realise how the flow of data and services from satellites can create new opportunities for their businesses," said Willetts. "I have to say that even today, doing some interviews about this launch, the question came to me: ‘This is a luxury – can we really afford it in an age of austerity?’
"The fact is," he continued, "if we want our aircraft to land in bad weather, if we want to track the movement of our railway rolling stock, if we want to have precision agriculture, if we want to be able to deliver broadband services to parts of the country that are beyond the reach of fibre-optic cables, then satellite services matter."
Satellite services, argued Willetts, are integral to the ‘day-to-day, bread-and-butter existence’ of British citizens. However, the potential benefits are not purely social; there are also significant financial gains to be made. The space sector has been identified by the UK government as one of its key focuses for economic growth. Britain’s space-related endeavours already contribute £9.1bn annually to the country’s economy, and policymakers aim to create a £40bn space industry by 2030.
This Catapult centre, like its counterparts, has been strategically positioned to provide support across the entire spectrum of the UK space sector. The facility will provide assistance to stakeholders throughout the various stages of technological development, from an application’s inception to the point that it reaches the market. The centre also has the capacity to connect parties working at different junctures along this chain.
‘Operating at the interface’
"The crucial thing is that we are operating at the interface between the universities and industry," Martin explained during his presentation. "In the spirit of collaborative innovation, we can bring together the best ideas and minds from government, industry and academia, to commercialise research. We want to make things work faster, better and cheaper in order to deliver the economic growth that we all so desperately need."
The two new centres that have been established at Harwell Oxford are, without doubt, good news for the UK space sector. However, Dordain reminded the audience that there is no room for complacency. If we want to continue reaping the rewards of space-related research, we must maintain investment in infrastructure and collaboration.
"Success cannot be taken for granted," he warned. "The competitiveness of today is just the light of investments made several years ago. There is always a gap between investments and their results. If we wish to stay competitive, we have to continue with the investments and partnerships that have contributed to the success of today.
"Unfortunately, success and profit generate new competitors," Dordain continued. "We have new competitors all over the world. We need to continue – and even increase – our efforts. We are not only here to celebrate the Satellite Applications Catapult and ECSAT. I am sure that the entire Harwell Oxford campus will contribute to the competitiveness of tomorrow."