When Frank Sinatra sang ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, he could never have guessed that in the following years and decades, humans would have set foot on the moon, sent probes into interstellar space and be planning a manned mission to Mars. For the director of the Northern Ireland Space office, Robert Hill, the future was never that far away, in fact the future is coming to Belfast as the UK Space Conference comes to the ICC from 21st to 23rd November.


This week, also marks UN World Space Week and to celebrate its launch, the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, Skytek Ltd, the Northern Ireland Space Office, and the UK Space Agency are hosting one of a series of ongoing workshops to advise the public sector in understanding how satellite data and applications can support and augment effective and efficient local public services.

It is also an apt opportunity to launch the Northern Ireland Space (NI Space) cluster and discuss the UK Space Conference. With a burgeoning space industry both nationally and internationally Robert sees this event as a precursor to the main one in November.

It is the first time that the UK Space Conference will be held in Belfast and NI Space, which supports the development of Northern Ireland companies interested and working in the space sector, and Robert is keen to highlight the opportunities for cooperation, development and investment.

The NI Space cluster ranges from SMEs to large multinationals but they all share a desire to expand and develop their involvement in the multi-million-pound space industry.

With that in mind all the UK based clusters, as well as delegates from all over the world including representatives from US, Japan, Italy, Hungary and France, will be attending the three-day conference aiming to cultivate ideas, partnerships and share best practice.

The UK Space Conference comes a few months after the UK Space Agency launched a £50 million fund, the Space Cluster Infrastructure fund (SCIF) that aims to grow and upgrade UK organisations capability, capacity and competition in the field of research and development (R&D) as well as the recent £65 million fund for ground-breaking innovations that could boost UK leadership in space technologies and applications.
The UK Space Agency is also investing over £1 million to strengthen Northern Ireland’s space ecosystem, which includes its partnership with Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Space Office to support the public sector to draw on space data to improve local public services, the Space Technology Exploitation Programme (STEP), which is being piloted by ADS Northern Ireland and is supporting innovative local space SMEs to help solve the technology challenges of future customers, and support for the Northern Ireland Space Office to establish itself as a space cluster.
Launching the UK Space Conference and discussing Northern Ireland Space, Robert said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for NI Space to really set out its stall. Northern Ireland is already a contributor to the space sector with involvement in major projects such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the development and provision of onboard propulsion systems for a range of space craft and internationally recognised testing capacity.

“Given the size of the potential market and concentrated nature of the space community in Northern Ireland, partnerships are key. In fully understanding the market and in the provision of a joined-up approach to enable the NI Space cluster to really prosper, we will be working closely with our colleagues in Invest NI, ADS Northern Ireland and the UK Space Agency.

“It is Northern Ireland’s strong engineering and problem-solving heritage which is recognised globally. So, for us, space is just the next step in the evolution of providing solutions and economic development.”

Jon Hulks, Space Ecosystem Development Manager, UK Space Agency said; “I’m delighted to be in Belfast to support the development of the Northern Ireland Space Cluster by participating in the Earth Observation workshop and overseeing the launch of Northern Ireland Space. This will cement the good work in this sector that has been going on for decades. The UK Space Conference held in Belfast next month will provide the perfect platform for Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK’s space community to promote its capabilities to a global space audience, as well as exchange ideas, plans and encourage development and success in the emerging space age.”

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Marking UN World Space Week and celebrating the launch of UK Space Conference and the Northern Ireland cluster, pictured are (LtoR): Rico Santiago, Deputy Head of Business Development, OSNI, Susan Heaney, NI Space Office, Jarek Dobrzanski, Software Engineer, Skytek, Robert Hill, Director, NI Space Office, Jon Hulks, Space Ecosystem Development Manager, UK Space Agency and Evelyn Lowndes and Laura McKee from OSNI.

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