ESA and Satellite Applications Catapult; Site Visit to Harwell

9th November 2018
Space Camp outside ESA

With the launch of the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy (IGS), the government has recognised Space as a strategically important sector; containing major potential for economic growth, scientific advancement and societal benefits, and has plans for the UK to quadruple its performance by 2030. At the centre of this push is the development of a Space Cluster at Harwell, Oxfordshire where organisations can benefit from each other’s expertise and facilities. It is here that the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ESA) and the Satellite Applications Catapult reside, and it was these two organisations that we were lucky enough to visit on the 16th October. First on the list was ESA. Here’s what we learnt:

1)    The global satellite market is only just bigger than Apple’s revenues

Philip Haines (Head of Market Analysis and Business Intelligence, ESA) enlightened us on the current Upstream (sending objects into Space and Space exploration) landscape of the Space sector. It was fascinating to hear that the global satellite market only amounted to $268 Billion (in comparison, Apple Inc’s revenues in 2018 amounted to $265.6 Billion). Philip also pointed to the increasing production of CubeSats (958 produced in total, classified by weighing <1.33kg) which, originally intended for academic purposes, now provided ever more important applications within Earth Observation and exemplified the potential of NewSpace products.

2)    Nearly half of all European funding towards Space is used in the UK

Nick Appleyard (Head of Downstream Business Applications, ESA) was able to explain in more detail ESAs funding and innovation strategy and the socioeconomic impact it has. It was interesting to hear that ESA had created 2483 sustainable jobs and was projected to make a revenue of €1.67BN by 2023. It was especially thought-provoking to hear that 87% of this was made up by SMEs and not large corporations. 

3)    5G is set to revolutionise communications

In the words of Rachel Muller (Telecom Future Programmes, ESA), “5G is more than just protocol and latency, it is a revolution in telecommunications; a set of technologies, a set of services, a network of networks”. Rachel took us through ESAs efforts to understand future trends within the sector as well as providing clarity on the arrival of 5G and the verticals this will have a major effect on including; Transport and logistics, media and broadcasting, and Public safety and security.

4)    The Space Sector is keen on collaboration

Mike Haverson (Head of Space Segment Technology and Product Development, ESA) outlined ESAs partnership mentality; initiating the programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems (ARTES); a three-way partnership with industry, institutions and ESA which transforms R&D investments into commercially successful projects and which aims to keep European and Canadian industry at the leading edge of this fiercely competitive global market

5)    The UK Space Agency is addressing issues facing emerging markets with Space-based solutions

Portia Bircher (Local Growth Manager at the UK Space Agency) took us through their work with the International Partnership Programme (IPP), an £152 million, 5-year initiative utilising the UK’s world class research and innovation expertise to deliver tangible and lasting impacts on the ground using Spaced-based solutions. Use cases include using satellite imagery to detect deforestation via illegal logging in Guatemala and using earth observation data to provide micro-insurance in Kenya to protect locals against the ruin of floods and drought.

After some 1-on-1 sessions with the ESA delegates, we headed to the Satellite Applications Catapult where Chris Hobbs (Head of Business Strategy, SAC) was on hand to provide us with lunch and a series of sessions and introductions with our 10 start-ups. Highlights of the afternoon included:

Near Field Antenna Test

Sofant and near field antenna test

David Wither, CEO of Sofant Technologies (which operates in the RF (Radio Frequency) space) and his colleague Andrew Christie crept off to take advantage of the Satellite Applications Catapult’s many facilities. This included a private demonstration of the SAC’s Near Field Antenna Test which left 2 very satisfied customers, even if the make-up of the room and the echo suppression played with their ears.

Illegal Fishing and AI

Back in the SAC’s demo room, Keegan Neave (Data Visualisation Engineer, SAC) took us through a breath-taking demo of their project ‘Open-Mind’; looking to track illegal fishing activity by studying boat behaviour using earth observation and artificial intelligence. It was fascinating not only to see the technology that the Satellite Applications Catapult were building but also the real-world use cases they were putting these towards.

We would like to thanks both ESA and the Satellite Applications Catapult for providing their time and expertise. It was an informative and eye-opening day that benefitted our start-ups. In their own words:

“The ESA visit was fantastic because it helped me gain valuable insight into the challenges and opportunities in the satellite communications sector. I also gained a better understand how ESA can support our business with our market entry strategy.”
David Wither, CEO of Sofant Technologies

“Henry Ford once said that "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.". We did not just visit ESA, we came to ESA to work together, to support each other missions and jointly build the future of space exploration and earth observation.”
Peter Bunus, CEO of Cystellar

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