The business of space

UK companies are using space technology to change lives on Earth

Space exploration is pretty cool, right? Of late, mankind has sent rovers to Mars, probes to Pluto and plonked a very loveable little lander called Philae onto Comet 67P. These missions push back the frontiers of human knowledge and help us better understand the solar system, galaxy and vast Universe we inhabit. But can space technology tangibly benefit people on Earth? Can it create jobs and boost the economy?

This feature highlights some of the amazing UK companies using European Space Agency (ESA) technology to improve lives on Earth in areas such as regenerative healthcare, protecting agriculture, interactive travel experiences, bedbug detection and much more…

Incubating space business

The ESA BIC Harwell is the first ESA-supported business incubation centre (BIC) in the UK. Managed and co-funded by STFC, its mission is to help entrepreneurs build viable businesses using space technology. The centre provides companies with a two-year support package that enables them to harness intellectual property, technologies and expertise generated by ESA. It also provides over £41,000 funding, access to STFC research facilities, and a dedicated STFC business champion.

Here are some of the awesome companies spinning out of ESA BIC Harwell:

Baby care

Oxford Space Structures is developing commercial baby care products using technology designed to deploy satellites on ESA’s Alphasat space mission. The company launched its first product, the SpaceCot, in January 2016. The first UK premium baby travel cot on the market, it weighs less than five kilograms and can be assembled with one hand in three seconds. Dr Fujia Chen, CEO at Oxford Space Structures, states:

“It is very exciting to use satellite technologies for transforming baby products. We look forward to bringing more smart baby products to the market for helping baby care by using high-tech space technologies.”

Rocket Science for Mothers
(Credit: Maxime Boulet-Audet)

Medicine

The Electrospinning Company is using equipment designed for use in space programmes to develop and produce nanofibre materials for the biomedical research industry. It is a leading provider of materials for regenerative medicine and drug discovery. During its incubation period, the company took part in the European Re-Liver project to improve the treatment of liver-associated diseases. It is currently collaborating with the University of Sheffield in an international project to develop and test a new technique to address loss of vision caused by scarring of the cornea.

Ann Kramer, Chief Executive at The Electrospinning Company states:

“Being at the ESA BIC Harwell was invaluable to us, giving us flexible access to state of the art laboratories and networking opportunities. This meant that we could improve our own techniques and equipment, and were able to turn our plans into actions and expand our team, whilst working and collaborating with people we might not have met otherwise.”

The Electrospinning Company, ESA BIC Start-up
(Credit: STFC)

Bedbugs

Insect Research Systems Ltd website
(Credit: Insect Research Systems Ltd)

Insect Research Systems Ltd is developing a detector that enables the global hospitality industry to accurately and rapidly identify bed bug infestations. An infestation can prove expensive for hotels as a result of the costs associated with their elimination, the losses resulting from damage to the reputation of the hotel brand, and the risk of litigation. The company is building upon the know-how and experience of developing instrumentation for solar system exploration, such as ESA’s comet-chasing Rosetta mission, and subsequent translational projects at The Open University addressing a range of challenges back here on Earth.

 

Product authentication

RealTag website
(Credit: RealTag)

RealTag has developed technology that enables consumers to know that an item they are buying is authentic, and for brand owners to securely tag their goods, protecting their reputation and profits. RealTag uses technology to create a readable optical solution that will work across all smartphones – effectively turning any smartphone into a verification tool. ESA BIC has helped RealTag develop technology and has introduced the company to valuable technology suppliers.

 

Travel

Esplorio
(Credit: Esplorio)

Esplorio is a travel start-up, which – through mobile application technology – aims to provide an easy way for people to record, relive and share their travels. It lets users automatically record their travels with a push of a button, aggregating GPS data from their mobile devices and social data to produce detailed interactive maps and timelines. The trips can easily be shared on social media and can also be used to understand a user’s travel preferences, allowing Esplorio to make highly personalised travel recommendations for the future to its users.

 

Agriculture

Soil Sampling GPS Hardware
(Credit: IPF Africa)

IPF Africa delivers space technology to farmers in southern Africa. The SeeCrop app will allow farmers to monitor their crops for damage using satellite imagery. By using their smartphone or tablet’s GPS, farmers will be able to record the precise location and cause of crop damage while out in the field. Farmers cannot physically check every inch of their crops and therefore to rid a field of pests, weeds and diseases, they will typically spray the entire area with a crop protection chemical. However, by allowing farmers to record geo-referenced agronomic observations while out in the field, the technology will allow them to target treatments to specific areas, saving the farmer money and reducing the negative environmental impact of unnecessary applications.

 

Quickbird is developing the next generation of farming software aimed at making farming more efficient. Vast amounts of data can be collected from satellite imagery, while key measurements such as the temperature, humidity and locations of pests and diseases provide a valuable insight to the farmer. Quickbird’s software will help analyse raw data from a number of sources, enabling the company to offer innovative solutions and advice to farmers. The long term goal is an automated system in which the farm machinery delivers customised levels of nutrients depending on the environment in specific areas of farm land.

Music

GigBug website
(Credit: GigBug)

Electric Wonderland is working on the creation of an innovative and comprehensive gig searching app known as Gigbug, which is due for launch within the next 12 months. Gigbug is a mobile application and an event guide that allows you to find gigs around you, providing users with a comprehensive local entertainment search.

 

Space network

These are just some examples of how UK-companies are exploiting space technology to change lives on Earth. The 50 companies nurtured at ESA BIC Harwell to date are part of a network of more than 300 businesses supported in Europe by ESA’s incubation Centre Programme.

“It is wonderful to see how the alumni and the current incubators are interacting together, exchanging ideas and inspiring each other” says Frank Salzgeber, Head of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office.This is the foundation of more new businesses and employment opportunities.”

If you think you could use space technology to set-up a business and change the world, contact ESA BIC Harwell: enquiries@esa-bic.org.uk.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000