Satellites? Here in the North East?

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Catherine Johns of Business Durham looks at the success of the satellite applications sector in the North East.

Three years ago, the North East won a contract to host a Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence (CoE), with the bid led by Business Durham.

We already had some interesting businesses in the space sector. Mars Curiosity Rover: Radiation detector chip on board, courtesy of Kromek plc. Experiments on the International Space Station: Look no further than REPROCell.

So why a Satellite Applications CoE? A day without satellites is a rather inconvenient one, yet the data that streams back at us from these assets is not fully exploited commercially. For example, secure satellite communications can reduce waiting times for health screening results from weeks to hours. The award-winning, Gateshead-based Realsafe Technologies has developed an app that uses GPS to inform emergency services if a biker is involved in a crash, demonstrating the huge opportunities to develop new products and services using satellite data.

Since 2014, the CoE has engaged with 345 businesses, 84% of which were not in the space sector. Additionally, for every £1 invested by the Satellite Applications Catapult, £18 has been secured for businesses in the North East. The UK Space Agency also awarded Business Durham the North East Space Incubation Programme, and we also secured some EU Interreg funding for space and photonics.

But we’ve barely scratched the surface. In the last six months, we have shifted to a challenge-led approach – rather than saying “ain’t space cool”, we’ve been saying that we want to use satellite data to make us feel safer in the world, looking at our foodchain, our water, and how we move around the planet. It’s working: anyone who was at the Satellite Applications conference in March saw how we used challenges around 5G, ports and logistics, and transport as platforms for discussion.

The result is that the Catapult and UK Space Agency have extended our contract for another three years, based on the “Satellites for Safer World” theme. This will use the conference as a springboard for collaboration, drawing together government, academia, communities and businesses to solve the problems that matter to us.

Business Durham manages the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, which is funded by the Satellite Applications Catapult and the UK Space Agency. The consortium consists of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, Concision, e2E Services, Bon Accord and Harland, and is chaired by Telespazio Vega.