Catherine Johns of Business Durham takes a look at the success of the satellite applications sector in the North East

“Satellites? Here in the North East?”

Three years ago, the North East won a contract to host a Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence (CoE), 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. Secure satcomms can reduce waiting times for health screening results from days to hours. RealSafe, here in the North East, has developed an app that uses GPS to inform emergency services if a biker is involved in a crash. There are huge opportunities to develop new products and services using satellite data.

Over the last three years, the CoE has engaged with 345 businesses, 84% of which were not in the space sector and, for every £1 invested by the Catapult, £18 has been secured for businesses in the North East. The United Kingdom 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 food chain, our water, 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 the 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 Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, which is funded by the Satellite Applications Catapult and the United Kingdom 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.