Crucial report on the future of the Irish space industry launched
25 August 2017
The 9 week International Space University’s Space Studies Program 2017 (SSP17) comes to an end at a Closing Ceremony in Cork County Hall this evening.
One of the most important outputs of the programme is the production of a report entitled ‘A Roadmap for Emerging Space States’ (ARESS), produced by the 110 participants of the program.
Ireland has been a member state of the European Space Agency (ESA) since 1975, with the primary focus of developing Irish businesses for the global space industry and ensuring economic and societal benefits. The country recently increased its commitment to ESA to €90 million from 2016-2020, as an investment in growing space related industries in Ireland, so the ARESS report is crucial to help chart the way forward for Irish industries to get involved in the global space industry.
It provides a general roadmap for Ireland to build and expand space sector capacity, discusses why various nations would want to pursue involvement in space, it gives case studies of established space nations, addresses the downside of not developing a space sector and considers the pre-eminent space powers, governments and commercial markets, examining recent trends to provide a clear picture of the global space landscape.
The primary findings and recommendations in relation to Ireland are set out below…
Recommendation 1: Establish a national space agency to develop a space policy for Ireland and coordinate the Irish space sector in line with strategic goals.
Ireland has over than 30 companies that self-identify as contributing to the space market in the areas of electronics, software and propulsion, precision engineering, optoelectronics, and advanced materials. Ireland also has strong space-adjacent industries, including pharmaceutical, biomedical, and data analytics sectors.
Through private businesses, academia, organisations such as Technology Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, and ESA collaborations, Ireland is involved in a wide range of research, enterprise and space application development; yet Ireland is not fully exploiting all of the opportunities at its disposal.
Ireland should establish a national space agency or similar body. This organization would be responsible for the development of a comprehensive national policy to address the development of the Irish space sector. The organization would identify existing space market gaps abroad, recommend strategic space research and industry based partnerships, and enhance space-related technology transfer mechanisms in both directions. Further, the space agency should advise the government on space research, education, outreach, and industry development and investment.
Recommendation 2: Join UNCOPUOS and participate further in international partnerships and organisations related to space.
Ireland should cooperate with established space states. In Ireland, the space industry has already developed around various fields so cooperation is more likely to focus on research and development collaboration rather than technology sharing; however, Irish policy may incentivize future programs or businesses to prioritize technology transfer as a useful development tool.
Ireland is not a member of United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), nor has it enacted a national space law. These oversights may hinder Ireland’s space sector development in the medium to long term future by impeding or diminishing valuable international cooperation or technology transfer programs – also affecting commercial space startups that could potentially be of economic benefit to Ireland.
Host a major international conference on Space
Hosting a major international conference on space would be another good opportunity for Ireland to show its capability to the world. Israel, Mexico, and other emerging nations successfully hosted an IAC to encourage national awareness and promote industry collaborations.
Recommendation 3: Increase investment in space-related STEM education and incentivize space science and engineering programs.
An important component of education at a fundamental level is STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. Ireland’s national space policy should encourage space-oriented STEM education, recognizing its significance over time. Good examples of existing initiatives are the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, 2017) or National Space Week (CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, 2017).
Ireland should increase its investment in space policy and space technology management disciplines at university level. Aerospace engineering courses, including satellite engineering, should be prioritized. There are a number of excellent courses offered but overall the educational opportunities do not match the Irish space sector’s growing need for educating professionals.
Recommendation 4: Encourage strategically focused private industry to engage in space-related activities that promote Irish technologies, economic growth, and societal benefits.
Ireland’s space industry has developed significantly over the past decade. The Irish Space Industry Group (ISIG), formed in 2015, represents and promotes “the collective interests of companies operating in the space sector in Ireland at national and international level,”. The objectives of ISIG correspond to recommendations and rationales. The group highlights the need for an “Irish Space Office” with the “power to decide” and develop the space sector as “a significant contributor to the Irish economy”. As a potentially powerful contributor to an Irish space policy, the recommendation is that ISIG adopt a more formalised structure and reporting mechanism.
The primary modes of Irish space industry development are through the private sector and ESA supported ventures. This is successful to a point; however, Ireland misses greater opportunities by not focusing its space research, development, and business into strategically valuable sectors or technologies according to an Irish policy. By introducing a policy-based approach, Ireland can drive the creation of corporate clusters around thematic areas most relevant to the sector. Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are another tool that could benefit from a clearly defined space policy to support economic growth. Such partnerships should concentrate interests on research clusters. By adding these dimensions to Ireland’s space industry development, Ireland can benefit from social and economic growth.
Opportunities for the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries
Ireland is one of the leading locations for the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries in the world, which opens many attractive opportunities for research and applications in the unique microgravity environment of Lower Earth Orbit. Valuable biomedical research on ISS (the International Space Station) has included stem cells, antibiotic resistance, and protein crystallization. Interest in long duration spaceflight has spurred a renewed focus on pharmacological development for human spaceflight participants. The problems of human exposure to space radiation and the degradation of spaceborne drugs have not been solved. This is potentially a significant opportunity for Ireland to become a pioneer in space pharmacology.
Market for downstream data analytics-related applications in space
With increasingly large volumes and complexity of data (“big data”) coming from space-based systems, the fields of data analytics and machine learning are becoming very relevant. Extracting meaningful information from a wide array of sensors, science instruments, or satellites is key to maximizing the use of space technologies. Ireland has invested heavily in data analytics, with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics being the “largest single investment in a research program in the history of the State”. Similarly, the Centre for Applied Data Analytics is an Enterprise Ireland and IDA backed technology center whose primary outputs are “industry prototypes and demonstrators along with state of the art reviews of data analytics technology”. There is a growing market for downstream data analytics-related applications such as Earth Observation, open source data, and scientific research
A growing space sector will boost national pride and Ireland’s international profile.
For more on the International Space University’s Space Studies Program in Ireland this summer, see www.ssp17.ie