Building Partnerships and Platforms for Space Technologies

Innovation Incubator – Calling all Tech Start-ups
Avanti: the $85m argument for Innovation in the UK
Making money from Time Travel
Reaping the earthly benefits of zero gravity farming
Risk and Innovation in Space
Watch this Space X
Connecting rural areas of the Plateau Continent
Copernicus: Europe’s eyes in space
LISA pathfinder takes to the skies
Finders keepers in space

Innovation Incubator – Calling all Tech Start-ups

Have you created a cutting edge product or service for the space industry? Showcase what you’ve been working on in the Space Innovation Congress start-up Innovation Incubator.

Deadline: 19 February

Sponsored by SETsquared, the Global #1 Business Incubator, at Space Innovation Congress, we recognise the importance for start-ups to get their product or service in front of the right people – that’s why we’re offering you the opportunity to showcase what you’ve been working on to an audience of investors, press, developers, technology providers, evangelists and vendors at this year’s Space Innovation Congress Expo.

All applications will be accessed by a panel of experts and the 20 finalists will have the opportunity to pitch to this panel at the conference. The prize for the finalists will include grants, investment, mentoring and ongoing support that will see you to market ready stage and beyond.

The opportunity to join us at Space Innovation Congress Expo is open to anyone, anywhere in the world, who is either a start-up, self employed developer or new product or service launch. We are looking for innovative space applications and new technologies.

The form is very simple and we will come back to you with any clarifications before the conference so you are ship shape and ready to take your business to the next level.

Simon Bond, SETsquared Innovation Director said: “Working with the UK Space Agency, we are looking for innovative space applications and technologies. The best will get the opportunity to attend our award winning Entrepreneurship Programme and be supported in our incubation facility.”

Please apply here:

SETsquarred #1 incubator                                                                      UKSA

Avanti: the $85m argument for Innovation in the UK

innovation in space


Space. What’s in it for me? How can I fund it? Wannabe entrepreneurs know they’ve got cracking ideas and potentially lucrative products – but little idea how to make their dreams commercial realities.

Innovate UK is funding projects and business to turn dreams into hard nosed business realities. It is the UK’s primary innovation agency, funding, supporting and connecting innovative businesses through a unique mix of people and programmes to accelerate sustainable, business growth.

Its programmes are open to all UK businesses and it has formidable financial resources and world renowned expertise.

It funds business growth through competitive programmes with finance ranging from £5,000 to £10m. If you’re in the business of innovation it really is a no-brainer to get them involved.

Take Avanti Communications. It’s almost a household name nowadays, but it was Innovate UK that helped it take world-leading technologies into space, making the UK a global leader in new multi-million pound satellite communication markets.

“Innovate UK is doing an outstanding job of funding highly innovative technologies… delivering revenues, job creation and wealth creation in the UK, “ says David Williams, chief executive of Avanti.

“In Avanti’s case, many of these projects have been taken to market within a very short time period and they helped us create genuine, sustainable competitive advantage.”

The business launched its first satellite HYLAS 1 into space in 2010 as part of a public-private partnership funded by the European Space Agency, United Kingdom Space Agency and managed on their behalf by Innovate UK.

Williams says was a bold move in 2010 because the satellite industry had not yet embraced the use of Avanti’s new high frequency technology. Today, the Avanti partners now own more Ka-band satellites than any other country. This is a market segment where the UK really is taking a global lead.

Avanti then launched HYLAS 2 and HYLAS 3 to cover the Middle East and Africa, and will increase capacity next year with the launch of HYLAS 4. The beauty of these satellites is that they provide universal coverage – overcoming the limitations facing traditional telecommunications networks.

This technology fundamentally changed the economics of providing high speed data communications in high growth markets.

See Innovate UK’s keynote session at Space Innovation Congress

The Ka-band satellites carry eight times more data than lower frequency satellites and allow connectivity to even the most remote and hard-to-reach regions. Satellite is connecting new generations of service providers and end users where traditional networks cannot.

Only six years after the 2010 launch of its HYLAS 1 satellite, Avanti is now a global organisation reporting $85m in revenues. Over the past few years, Avanti has collaborated on many projects managed and co-funded by Innovate UK.

Williams says the focus is always about moving swiftly to market. This commercial meeting of minds and partnership is delivering highly-profitable, terrestrial services across the globe.

For example, Lynx, a booking system for broadcasters co-funded by the UK Space Agency(UKSA), is now being used by leading broadcasters including the BBC, CNN, Sky, Bloomberg and Reuters to deliver live, global news coverage.

Orion, an Innovate UK project, was developed by Avanti and Vodafone, resulting in the 2014 launch of the world’s first satellite 3g backhaul service. That’s enabled Avanti to take a global lead in a sector worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Another first is its Mobile Assist app for satellite installation engineers. It vastly reduces the time and cost of installation through supporting antenna line-up, the initiation of service and job reporting.This too was developed out of an Innovate UK-funded feasibility study.

Apply for the Innovation Incubator at Space Innovation Congress – backed by SETSquared – the Global #1 business incubator – and UK Space Agency, this is a fast track programme to see your ideas to market – apply here

Deadline – 19 February

Making money from Time Travel

time travel

Most people don’t need to know about satellite technology per se, but it is critical to 21st century living and creating new businesses at an exponential rate. Getting started and funded is a huge challenge but one of the UK success stories is iGeolise, which provides software to consumer-facing websites and location based decision makers.

The company motto is ‘minutes mean more than miles’ and its aim is to make locations business relevant by using time. Co-founder Charlie Davis says potential new commercial applications arrive on his desk every day but admits that some are more challenging than others.

“We had a company approach us who ‘extract’ people from hostage situations. They wanted to know how far the kidnappers could have got in, say, half an hour. Or could we identify areas of risk, by time travelled?”

He continues: “The initial idea was simple. If I live or work alongside someone but I drive and he uses local transport, then our local areas are very different to each other, even if current technology would view us similarly. Our Travel Time app that turns distance into time. It tells people how long it takes to get from A to B, depending on whether you are walking, cycling, driving or going by train.

Davies’ idea in 2010 is now a very lucrative business with sales set to double and new financing allowing international expansion.

Like many UK businesses exploiting the satellite information space, they won a feasibility funding grant of £54,300 from Innovate UK, as part of a digital convergence competition. iGeolise used the money to develop and refine its Travel Time technology.

The project cost £72,487 and was completed in 2013. Since then the company has gone on to enjoy a string of successes and shortly after development work started, it won the UK leg of the European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC), beating 76 other entries from the UK and coming second overall.

“That was an awesome opportunity and we took full advantage,” says Davies. “We were heavily focused on the commercialisation of the technology, because we had invested our own money as well. We started commercialising pretty much straight away. But, having that initial money available – along with all the other support we had from Innovate UK – enabled us to grow our business much more quickly than we could have done organically. That was invaluable,” says Davies.

Initially they planned to create only a consumer-facing product but in 2011, they realised that selling to B2B and consumer-facing companies such as property websites would be far more lucrative. Today, Travel Time does not just make searches more relevant; it opens up opportunities to search more widely and with more complexity. The company is also supporting other developers building GPS-enabled applications.

“Today, if you have a mobile application that is using a GPS satellite to locate the user, we can work with that application so that when it locates the user it can provide searches around them.”

The two core products are the TravelTime platform and MinuteMapr, a business analysis tool used primarily by HR professionals and other location specialists. It helps them understand the context of a location based decision using minutes not miles.

For example, an HR team considering an office relocation can upload the home postcodes staff and see current commute times, compare the numbers with a proposed new office location and quickly get a real insight into the impact of relocation on each employee’s commute.

The potentially lucrative business of hostage extraction aside, Davies says they are constantly planning next generation services in collaboration with customers and development partners.

Like other entrepreneurs in space- enabled businesses, cross-sector collaboration is core to how they operate, getting products to market, quickly and cost-effectively.

If you’re interested in networking with your peers, showcase your work and engage with the latest trends, remember to register for the Space Innovation Congress, which takes place in London on 7th-8th April 2016:

Early bird tickets close on 12 February, register now!


Reaping the earthly benefits of zero gravity farming

scott kelly flower

A space age soil technology to produce plants for NASA astronauts to grow and eat on zero gravity voyages, has received US patent approval for terrestial use. Designed and developed by Zero Gravity Solutions Inc, BAM-FX helps produce robust crops cost-effectively in tough, unpredictable terrain. It requires no expensive new kit and can be used with existing fertilisers and agricultural products.

John Kennedy, Chief Science Officer and co-founder of ZGSI, said: “ BAM-FX is designed to address the multiple challenges facing world agriculture and the need to feed the world’s growing population in the coming years.”

ZGSI believes the future of farming is precision agriculture, which takes into account the effects water, soil minerals and climatic conditions can have on the quality and production rate of a specific crop. Kennedy added: “Extensive field trials on a large variety of crops across a broad range of climates and conditions have consistently demonstrated the enhanced value and efficacy of using BAM-FX as a part of a grower’s crop plant mineral nutrition programme.”

”This patent approval represents a significant milestone in the product’s commercialisation,” said Glenn Stinebaugh, ZGSI’s CEO and a 30-year veteran with both the US Department of Agriculture and US Environmental Protection Agency.

“The rollout and introduction of BAM-FX in multiple markets and crops is well underway and the granting of the patent approval… provides necessary protection for a unique and potentially disruptive agricultural technology.

We will provide commercial quantities for the current and upcoming growing season… and the intended expansion of our agricultural sales, marketing and professional staff enabled by recently announced equity financing, will allow us to accelerate the pace of commercialisation.”

Zero Gravity Solutions is a Boca Rato and UK-based agricultural biotech commercialising  technologies designed for Space with significant applications on Earth. It is focused on the challenges facing world agriculture and the two primary technologies aimed at sustainable agriculture are BAM-FX and Directed Selection. BAM-FX is being manufactured and marketed by its wholly owned subsidiary, BAM Agricultural Solutions while Directed Selection is used in the prolonged zero/micro gravity environment of the International Space Station (ISS).

It is producing large volumes of non-GMO stem cells claimed to have unique and beneficial characteristics. Collaborating with NASA, the USDA and the University of Florida, ZGSI conducted scientific studies on six NASA flights to date and says proof of principle concept experiments aboard the ISS demonstrated the expected results of differential gene expression. Critically, they provided very strong evidence that plant and animal stem cells exposed to prolonged microgravity in space can be endowed with new characteristics of potentially great benefit to mankind and ZGSI expects to make further commercial announcements in that space. One worth watching.

If you’re interested in learning more from industry leaders, remember to register for the Space Innovation Congress, which takes place in London on 7th-8th April 2016:

Risk and Innovation in Space

risk vs innovation

Space tech is necessarily built upon a foundation of innovation, but invention is often seen in opposition to regulation, so does technological advance always increase risk, and do quality assurance standards, by their very nature, curtail progress?

Catastrophic results can occur when rocket technology fails. This fact has been unusually visible in the last year. As private companies attempt to push space tech forward – setting themselves increasingly difficult technical challenges – a number of high profile rocket explosions have caught the attention of media channels.

Traditionally, centralised public sector governance has accepted long, expensive development processes with a bias towards safety, culminating in extremely high costs. That paradigm is changing though with a number of high profile private companies taking over large contracts. These companies, including SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada, must try to manage quality management and assurance effectively but with a greater pressure to turn a profit, which government funded agencies don’t have to consider. To get a better insight into how these standards are established, it’s worth taking a look at how an agency manages the process. One agency that communicates very openly on the subject is the European Space Agency.


ESA and Quality Assurance

Assembling a satellite is no ordinary task, and it requires far from ordinary materials. “Rocket and satellite components have to endure an environment like nothing on Earth, combining high vacuum, extreme temperatures and aggressive radiation,” ESA states. “Engineers need to be certain of which materials they can rely on when designing for such a hostile environment”. Quality management and assurance is therefore key to producing consistently successful space missions. Its importance increases with the complexity, cost and risk of project. To combat this, ESA created a Materials and Processes domain, which manages activities including the rigorous testing of individual materials to assess how they respond to the space environment.

Why is Materials and Processes so important?


During its lifecycle, a satellite is confronted to many aggressive environments including the ones Earth, like corrosion and ageing. During launch, a satellite is exposed to high levels of acoustic noise, vibration and transitory G forces, potentially corroding susceptible alloys or composites.

Once in orbit the single most violent part of a satellite’s career is over and done with, but the space environment is far from welcoming. A satellite in low-Earth orbit passes from day to night many times a day. This ‘thermal cycling’ triggers abrupt temperature changes with can induce vibration and cracking. In addition, plastics and coatings may crack in the face of ultraviolet radiation in unfiltered sunlight as well as atomic oxygen particles. Optical surfaces and integrated circuits have to resist the onslaught of ionised radiation and charged particles as well as UV, and prolonged vacuum exposure can lead to materials outgassing.

Thankfully, the in-depth knowledge of materials and manufacturing applied by the Materials and Processes domain means a spacecraft’s vulnerability to these effects are limited.
How is the domain organised?

The Materials and Processes domain ensures detailed space simulations are carried out and the physical characteristics of materials and parts are precisely characterised. ESA also maintains lists of approved materials including details of their precise physical and chemical properties for use by mission teams.

Another element of their work is failure analysis. Spacecraft components undergo rigorous testing far in advance of mission launch: “If and when a failure does occur the aim is to understand why it took place and find ways of preventing it next time around,” ESA explains. “A wide range of equipment is available for this task including scanning electron microscopes and acoustic microscopes for non-destructive examinations.”

On the processes side, the domain establishes preferred manufacturing and assembly methods based on continual research and testing to minimise the chance of material or component failure. These procedures go on to form ESA and European production standards.

Looking ahead

Much as the rise of privately owned air travel didn’t lead to a sharp decline in passenger safety, private space tech companies won’t purposefully cut corners that will compromise their missions. Among other reason, huge sums of money are attached to successful contract bids, and the effects of a damaged reputation can last for a long time in the space sector. As such, these relatively new companies are learning lessons quickly with regards to innovating within a framework of standards established by agencies like ESA and NASA. Looking ahead, those companies who ultimately win out will not only have to direct lateral thinking to the external technological challenges, but also to internal supply chain management of the highest order.

If you’re interested in learning more from industry leaders, remember to register for the Space Innovation Congress, which takes place in London on 7th-8th April 2016:


Watch this Space X

Space X falcon 9

Most space enthusiasts are accustomed to space tech taking a long time to design, fabricate and perfect, but the speed at which SpaceX pushes forward is making a mockery of accepted wisdom. Here, the Space Innovation Congress looks at Elon Musk’s most ambitious project.

Lists can be pretty boring. They are, of course, often central to good organisation, but that’s not exactly ‘sexy’. Occasionally, however, a standalone list can really effectively capture the scale of an achievement.

One such example is the success of SpaceX since launching in 2001. The team’s achievements include: Falcon 1, the first privately funded, liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit; the first launch, orbit and recover a privately owned spacecraft (Dragon), which was also the first private spacecraft to the International Space Station; the launch of SES-8, which was the first SpaceX delivery into geosynchronous orbit; the launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) – the company’s first delivery beyond Earth orbit; and finally, on December 21, 2015, SpaceX successfully returned a first stage booster back to the ground at Cape Canaveral, the first such accomplishment by an orbit-capable rocket.

It’s safe to say SpaceX has shaken up the world of space tech. Furthermore, the last of those achievements, the return vertical landing of a Falcon 9 booster, could well be a watershed moment with repercussions felt throughout the sector for decades to come. Yet, barely has the dust settled on that breakthrough than news filtered through that SpaceX is attempting another, more difficult, rocket landing on January 17th 2016.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this Sunday with NASA’s Jason-3 satellite on board. This time the rocket will be returning to a ‘drone ship’ in the ocean rather than a launch pad on land like their last successful landing on December 21st last year. Musk’s team is furthering space travel at astonishing speed.

Yet, in some ways, SpaceX’s raison d’etre is cost reduction. This is a wild oversimplification of course, but Musk’s desire to start the project was not only driven by his obsession with Mars – he also couldn’t shake his disbelief at the costs he was quoted when trying to buy his first rocket. SpaceX has since slashed the cost of space launches: a US Government-funded launch costs $100-300m, whereas Falcon 9 costs an average of $57 million (less than $2,500 per pound to orbit). That cost difference is significant in itself, but the prospect of reusing the same hardware makes their revolutionary achievements even clearer; one of the major expenditures of a second launch would be fuel costs, which SpaceX estimates to be somewhere in the region of just $200,000. Musk also expects the costs to continue to fall: “Our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time as is the case with every other technology,” he says.

The savings SpaceX has achieved already places them at the forefront of their industry. While their approach to problem solving has been disruptive, and drawn from lessons gleaned in Silicon Valley, Musk’s engineer and designers couldn’t have reached this point without the trailblazing of NASA throughout the 20th Century. “With the Apollo program they learned so much,” SpaceX’s propulsion chief Tom Mueller admitted to Air & Space Smithsonian magazine back in 2012. “And we can get access to all that. We use that tremendously. A private company in a vacuum could not do what we did.” SpaceX has thus benefited a great deal from NASA’s vast technical archive.

Simplicity is at the core of both cost and reliability for Musk. He believes that the overheads of space travel start with the launch vehicle design. The workhorse Atlas V, for example, operated by the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance used for everything from planetary probes to spy satellites, would at times employ three different types of rocket, each tailored to a specific flight phase. SpaceX designed its Falcon rockets with standardisation in mind. Both Falcon 9 stages are powered by RP1 and liquid oxygen, meaning only one type of engine is required. Both are equal in diameter and constructed from aluminium-lithium alloy, reducing the amount of engineering, the processes required and the final cost.

These are hard fought simplifications of course and there is no disguising the sheer complexity of the task at hand on January 17th. Around two minutes after the Falcon 9 takes off, the first stage booster will separate and rotate, firing engines to slow its descent. The booster will then deploy landing legs and be directed to make a vertical landing on a floating drone barge in the Pacific Ocean.

With two failed attempts under its belt, the team is now hoping the lessons learnt from the successful landing at Vandenberg AFB can be taken forward and applied to this most ambitious of projects. If it works, SpaceX will have provided a proof-of-concept for recovering first stage booster hardware even in instances where it’s not convenient or possible for a rocket to return to a static site. Success is far from guaranteed, but all eyes will be on SpaceX whether they fail or triumph. Whichever way Sunday’s attempt goes, one sure bet is that SpaceX won’t be sitting still in its aftermath.

If you’re interested in learning more from industry leaders, remember to register for the Space Innovation Conference, which takes place in London on 7th-8th April 2016:

Connecting rural areas of the Plateau Continent

africa from space

The bid to bring internet connectivity to the entire African continent got serious this year, and everyone seems to agree space is the best solution. So how are satellites helping fill the gaps in rural connectivity and who is involved?

Building web infrastructure in rural areas is a challenge for all developing countries, but if you consider that 63% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population lives in rural areas, the size and importance of the task there are thrown into sharp relief. Little wonder then that Facebook made headlines with their recent announcement to partner with Eutelsat on a major satellite project launching next year with the goal of providing continent-wide web coverage. In fact, similar Facebook projects have drawn criticism over net neutrality issues, but if these lessons have been learned, this project will represent a positive, albeit relatively short-term, solution for the continent; the economic and social benefits of bringing internet access to this demographic are undoubtedly huge.
The Facebook/Eutelsat project is part of a larger initiative,, which Facebook announced two years ago in an effort to accelerate the rate of connectivity by addressing the physical, economic and social barriers that are keeping people from getting online. The company plans to work with local partners across Africa to utilise satellite and terrestrial capacity in order to deliver services to rural towns and villages.

“Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa,” explains Chris Daniels, VP of  “We are looking forward to partnering with Eutelsat on this project and investigating new ways to use satellites to connect people in the most remote areas of the world more efficiently.”

As part of a multi-year agreement with Spacecom, the two companies will utilise the entire broadband payload on the AMOS-6 satellite. They are currently building a dedicated system comprising satellite capacity, gateways and terminals and the team aims to have the service operational by the second half of 2016.

The system itself is configured with high gain spot beams, meaning it will be able to provide targeted coverage to large parts of West, East and Southern Africa. The service is optimised for community and Direct-to-User access using affordable, off-the-shelf equipment.

A Bigger Picture
OneWeb, a project backed by Virgin Galactic, is thinking more broadly in its ambitions. The company’s constellation of satellites logically interlock with one another to create a coverage footprint across the globe. The first of 720 satellites will be launched in 2017, and once full deployment is achieved in 2019, the system will provide affordable access to all areas where current internet provision is currently unavailable.

OneWeb’s satellites are closer to Earth, allowing for high performance connectivity. Small, low-cost user terminals talk to the satellites in the sky, and emit LTE, 3G and WiFi to the surrounding areas, providing high-speed access for everyone. The benefits are manifold; in addition to rural coverage, company Founder Greg Wyler believes the OneWeb system will make a real difference to first responders and other aid workers, bridging thee gaps during hurricanes, earthquakes and refugee situations, where those on the ground are are often left abruptly without infrastructure. The system can also provide low-latency web access to planes.

The Long Game
If it’s so clear that one of the most pressing economic drivers of satellite technology is its potential to boost telecommunications, what foundations are individual countries laying to boost their digital access long term?

Countries like Zimbabwe don’t have national space programmes of their own, but are nevertheless keen to take advantage of satellite capabilities; earlier in the year, TelOne, the national telco, announced that it would be using capacity from a satellite run by British satellite operator Avanti Communications.

“Our contract has enabled us to address Zimbabwe’s gaping digital divide at pace,” stated Chipo Mtasa, TelOne’s Managing Director. “Satellite continues to play a huge role in bringing communities, businesses, and public sector organisations online.”

Avanti has been heavily involved in Africa’s satellite technology ventures. According to the company’s chief operating officer Matthew O’Connor, the continent now accounts for over 80 percent of Avanti’s capacity.

“Most satellites are built and launched by the major European and US aerospace companies,” he says. “The huge cost of building and launching satellites, together with the expertise needed to operate them and the long lead times to get a project underway, mean that most governments find that it is cheaper, quicker, and better in terms of service delivery to choose a commercial provider such as Avanti.”

Along with TelOne, Avanti is working with a number of other Africa telcos, including Orange Kenya and Tanzania Telecom, as well as internet service providers like Wanachi and Internet Solutions, the largest pan-African ISP. “Our proprietary software enables a service provider to set up and manage an international network with very little training,” says O’Connor. With these advances, the next few years should see a sharp rise in web literacy on the continent, and that in turn is key to driving innovation at a time when levels of foreign investment are growing rapidly.

If you’re interested in learning more from industry leaders including Eutelsat, OneWeb, and Virgin Galactic, remember to register for the Space Innovation Conference, which takes place in London on 7th-8th April 2016:

Copernicus: Europe’s eyes in space


EU space activities rarely make the news headlines, but those in the industry have plenty to be excited about. Much of the current buzz revolves around Copernicus, the EU’s multi-billion-euro Earth observation programme.

Earth observation (EO) accounts for a major slice of the global space economy. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that 58% of the sector relies directly or indirectly on EO satellite data and signals. With this in mind, it’s little wonder that the EU space industry is excited by Copernicus – an impressively ambitious programme designed to support some of Europe’s biggest challenges, including environmental disasters, land use for agriculture and forestry, and responses to emergency situations.

Copernicus – which was jointly developed by the European Commission, the European Parliament, EU Member States and the European Space Agency – launched the first of its satellites, Sentinel-1, last year. With the launch of the Sentinal-2 in June 2015, the amount of EO data generated by the programme grew significantly, as did downstream business opportunities. When Sentinel-2B joins its older sibling in orbit next year, that mission alone will be capable of obtaining complete coverage of the Earth’s land surface every five days, creating around two petabytes of data annually. But Copernicus data is guaranteed to be free-of-charge and open access until 2034, so why do forecasts suggest significant growth in downstream revenue?

Raw results
Copernicus generates a huge amount of raw data, but transforming it into useful is a complex and highly valuable task. It is within this niche that the downstream EO data industry has evolved. Many companies work in specialised areas, combining satellite data with other inputs to create tailored products and services.

To add a little more context to the current landscape, there are currently around 50 companies evaluating data from Sentinal-2a. “Agriculture is becoming a data-driven business,” explains Heike Bach, CEO at Vista, a German company that provides a range of data products for farmers. The Vista team combines optical satellite images with information from ground sensors, satnav and sophisticated crop growth models to enable precision farming on a local scale.

The high standard of Vista’s work is not only good for their profitability and that of the farmers they serve, the services also drive environmental benefits. For example, in collaboration with partners FarmFacts and John Deere, the team developed an easy-to-use system for precise, site-specific application of organic or mineral fertilisers, thus reducing the significant damage caused by fertiliser run-off.


The sky’s the limit

By 2021, Copernicus will be running six dedicated Sentinel missions, some of which include multiple satellite launches. The huge swathes of data that will be generated means there are also data management opportunities closer to the original collection source; ESA has just extended its contract with Indra, making one of the Spanish company’s data-processing and archiving centers a key resource up to 2020. The contract also includes data management for the Sentinel-2 satellites.

This is all part of the so-called ‘third wave of space’, characterised by a move towards greater private sector involvement in space where once there was only an institutional presence. Copernicus is demonstrating just how powerful this third wave can be when built around an institutional core. In fact, research conducted during Copernicus’ development suggests the programme will contribute €30 billion to the European economy as well as creating around 50,000 jobs by 2030. Against this context, the future of Europe’s space innovation looks very bright indeed.

The Sentinel missions at a glance:

  • Sentinel-1 provides all-weather, day and night radar imaging for land and ocean services
  • Sentinel-2 provides high-resolution optical imaging for land services (e.g. imagery of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas). It will also provide information for emergency services
  • Sentinel-3 will provide ocean and global land monitoring services
  • Sentinel-4 will provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring. It will be launched in 2021
  • Sentinel-5 Precursor is a subset of the Sentinel 5 sensor set planned for launch in 2016. Its primary purpose is to reduce the data gap between the loss of ENVISAT in 2012, and the launch of Sentinel-5 in 2021
  • Sentinel-5 will provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring
  • Sentinel-6 is designed to sustain high precision altimetry missions following the Jason-2 satellite

If you are interested in Copernicus or any of the other topics covered here, make sure you take a look at the agenda for Day 1 of the Space Innovation Congress.

LISA pathfinder takes to the skies

The LISAPathfinder spacecraft separates from its propulsion module as it arrives at its destination orbit located at the L1 Lagrange point.

The LISAPathfinder spacecraft separates from its propulsion module as it arrives at its destination orbit located at the L1 Lagrange point.

ESA’s LISA Pathfinder blasted off on 3 December at 04:04 GMT (05:04 CET) on a Vega rocket that delivered it to a low-Earth parking orbit. From there, the satellite will perform a series of six critical burns with its own propulsion system over the coming week, to raise the highest point of its orbit and eventually start the cruise towards its operational orbit around the Lagrange point L1, 1.5 million km away from Earth towards the Sun.

An experimental satellite, LISA pathfinder will test a technique to detect ripples in space and across time, adding a new perspective for viewing and understanding the universe.

From a vantage point 93 million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth, the European-built spacecraft, is expected to break ground in the search for the ripples, known as gravitational waves, caused by fast-moving, massive celestial objects such as merging black holes.

Black holes are so dense with matter that not even photons of light can escape the powerful gravitational effects.

“This will really open up a new window into the universe. God knows what we will learn,” said European Space Agency deputy mission scientist Oliver Jennrich.

Like light, gravity travels in waves. Unlike light, gravitational waves bend the interwoven fabric of space and time, a phenomenon conceptualised by physicist Albert Einstein a century ago. Before Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravity was seen as a force between two bodies.
In the pre-Einstein view of physics, if the sun disappeared one day, people on Earth would feel it instantly. In Einstein’s view, the effects would not be felt for eight minutes, the time both light waves and gravitational waves take to travel from the sun to Earth.
So far, attempts to detect gravitational waves using Earth-based detectors have been unsuccessful.

Massive objects such as black holes bend space and time more than smaller bodies like the sun, similar to how a bowling ball warps the surface of a trampoline more than a tennis ball.

“There’s a whole spectrum of gravitational waves, just like there’s a whole spectrum of electromagnetic waves,” said astrophysicist Ira Thorpe of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
An operational gravitational wave observatory under development would require three satellites, flying in a triangle formation about 621,000 miles (1 million kilometres) apart. The satellites would contain small metal cubes that would oscillate as a gravitational wave passes through.

Using a laser to measure tiny changes in distance between the cubes, scientists hope to track the subtle flexing of space and time. LISA (Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) Pathfinder will demonstrate the concept with two metal cubes 15 inches (38 cm) apart inside a single spacecraft.

The spacecraft is expected to reach its operational orbit in February 2016 and, after final checks, it will begin its six-month scientific mission at the beginning of March.
The mission, designed to last six months, cost about 400 million euros ($423 million).

Finders keepers in space


As the U.S. Congress passed last Tuesday the H.R. 2262 – a ‘finders keepers’ law that allows someone who discovers resources on another planet, galaxy, or universe to claim them legally we now face a space race from the private sector to claim these resources.

Thanks to the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 and its amendments we have seen an influx of private companies such a SpaceX or Virgin Galactic trying to get their missions beyond orbit and into the galaxies far far away.

Although under international law it is still illegal to claim extraterrestrial real estate, it is now legal to harvest the wealth contained in moons, planets and asteroids.

This is will, no doubt, launch a series of legal issues if any of the projects currently in the pipeline take off – in the literal sense of the word.

Asteroid mining is already a reality with Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources in the marketplace, we will no doubt see others following suit.

However, after the recent NASA revelations on the environment on Mars – what constitutes life? Will other planets have life forms? If so, what spectrum will they be in? Where will we draw the line?

Before we answer all the above we will see stronger investment in space technology and a significant growth in the sector going forward.