Using space technologies to rocket fuel your disruption

“Space the final frontier”, they were the opening words of a science fiction television series which launched in 1966 at the height of the space race and three years before Neil Armstrong took one small step, and one giant leap for mankind!

However over half a century later as science fiction becomes science fact – Bezos literally put Captain Kirk into space recently – what opportunities does space technology offer the north? That was the question posed to a panel at the Disruptors North virtual conference hosted by

Chaired by Yorkshire editor Ben Ormsby the panel consisted of Mandy Ridyard the FD at Produmax and co-chair of Space Hub Yorkshire, alongside Joel Freedman, regional innovation & design lead at the Satellite Applications Catapult, Craig Brown, VP of Major Programmes at Manchester-based SatixFy Space Systems, and Alan Cross the business applications regional ambassador for the European Space Agency (ESA).

Opening the session, Ormsby asked whether the north was playing a part in the space sector already or if it was an area of unexplored opportunity.

Ridyard started noting that Bradford-based aerospace engineering company Produmax already does a little work within the space sector and that the initial view was that Yorkshire didn’t have a space sector to speak of. However she added that research carried out by Space Hub Yorkshire last November found 358 businesses across Yorkshire already working with or with a known interest in the sector and that its 12 universities also all had “fingers in lots of different pieces within space technology”.

The important part of this discussion is that it talks of space technology, which Brown explains goes beyond just the creation of rockets and satellites and their launches etc, but in fact embraces a whole host of businesses.

Cross, who like Mandy is also working on the development of a space cluster in the region but this time the other side of the Pennines, notes that many companies don’t identify as space businesses, but can embrace the technology to disrupt their sector.

He explained: “Things like Uber and Tinder don’t consider themselves space businesses, but they use positioning data – itself a space technology. Equally I helped a sports and event photography business which was using cutting edge computing to try to speed things up, it takes two days on average to get the photos of people running marathons online, and we helped them use satellite communications and they’re now one of the only companies in the world who can do it [upload pictures] in two minutes and have completely disrupted their industry globally from Lancashire.”

Brown agrees it’s about showing the possibilities of the technology that is available through space and that ultimately space technology is not just a sector to enter but an “enabler”.

He noted: ” If you look at the way space has historically been done not just in the UK, but across the world. It’s been large companies it’s been prime contractors, and very few smaller companies have entered into this market as a rule, because the barriers to entry have been really large, that is now changing.”

The change he notes is that the cost of access to space has come down enormously and that as a result the sector is becoming “a more open playing field for new players and new companies”. His business SatixFy Space Systems has been working on that democratisation of space by looking to develop low cost ways of talking to satellites creating ground antennas as well as space systems that previously might have cost anything up to £80,000 and are now less than the price of an iPhone.

This democratisation he says means that there “is a big opportunity for the north to capture if it plays its cards right”. He adds that history means the region hasn’t done vast amounts within the space sector but that now, changing economics means the future offers infinite possibilities.

Freedman picked up on the point of space technology being an enabler highlighting it is a crucial piece of infrastructure and that it is already embedded within sectors. He explained television was the obvious example but that actually “the insurance sector is using it, logistics are using onshore and offshore tracking”, but equally looking ahead space technology is playing a pivotal role in understanding “global issues” and supporting decision making whether that be the climate crisis or sustainable food systems.

Looking ahead he notes that space technology will only continue to gain more importance with a move towards more automation and connectivity with the likes of autonomous vehicles.

The panel clearly highlights there are real opportunities for the North within the space sector as Ridyard points out all businesses have the potential to engage with it by “increasing the amount of digital data that they use” and embracing everything the north has to collectively make the region a “destination for space”.

Cross adds it’s the opportunity of space which is exciting for innovation and to take it back to the start why people like Bezos are excited about it.

“Jeff Bezos says when he invested Amazon, he didn’t have to invent the internal combustion engine or build roads or the US Postal Service or publishers; what he was able to do using the internet as an enabler was to use all these bits and innovate. And it’s about developing us [the north] to innovate and I think the North has got a lot of the skills that will be able to capitalise on [the situation provided by growing amounts of space technology].”

The Disruptors North conference is a free one day event brought to you by alongside headline sponsors Deloitte, Clarion, UKFast and Quba which set the challenge for businesses to pick a side and decide whether to be the disruptor or the disrupted.

The virtual conference was also sponsored by Nexus, Curveblock, Stickyeyes, Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, WeLink and Ribble Cycles. It showcased the businesses already leading the charge and innovating from the north and the next generation of entrepreneurs and companies that are aiming to transform the regional, national and global economy.