£28m worth of work contributed to Northern Ireland space industry
Six companies in Northern Ireland have contributed almost £28m worth of work to the global space industry in 2013.
However business leaders say that the region could be making around 10 times that amount by further tapping into a market that's expected to grow to £40bn by 2030.
The figures were released at the first meeting of the Northern Ireland Space Special Interest Group, convened by ADS – the trade body for the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors in Northern Ireland – to maximise opportunities for industry and academia.
The meeting at the Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering centre (NIACE) included a presentation from Invest NI and briefings on the UK Satellite Applications Catapult programme and the European Space Propulsion company, currently being established in Belfast.
The Invest NI document revealed there are currently six companies working directly in the space industry – Thales/Aerojet, AIX Ltd, Andor Technology, Icemos Technology, Lamhroe Ltd and Moyola Precision Engineering.
Major clients include national and international space agencies, universities and centres of excellence, manufacturers of space craft, vehicles and satellites, and global manufacturers of space technology.
Thales in east Belfast has recently gone into partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne, which built the thrusters on the famous Voyager 1 spacecraft, originally launched in 1977.
The collaboration – European Space Propulsion – plans to be manufacturing thrusters and other products for the European space industry in Northern Ireland by the end of 2014.
A further six companies say they are exploring opportunities, including Moyola Precision Engineering and Mivan Ltd.
Construction companies could also get in on the act, with plans for large space telescopes representing huge amounts of installation and infrastructure work.
At the other end of the scale, schoolchildren are poised to benefit from a new qualification for 14-17-year-olds in space science and astronomy.
Invest NI has identified a number of barriers to development, including the relative isolation of Northern Ireland and a lack of collaboration between firms.
Professor Nick Veck from the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre near Oxford said he was hopeful that Northern Ireland could become a regional hub.
The Technology Strategy Board which runs the Catapult Centres for various industries, is aiming to set up three regional centres of excellence between now and the financial end of 2014 and a further three by April 2015.
"When you start talking about rockets and putting men on the moon, that is seen by the treasury as a huge cost," he said.
"When you start saying satellites, you get a different reception. Satellites represent real economic growth. There are applications for pretty much everything, from monitoring and streamlining traffic and transport, agriculture, marine operations and environmental projects."
The space industry contributes £9bn to the UK economy every year. The UK wants to capture 10% of a world space market likely to be worth £400bn by 2030. The European Space Agency's centre for space applications and telecommunications in Harwell outside Oxford was then opened in May.
Also in May, Tim Peake was assigned a six-month mission on the International Space Station in 2015, making him the first British astronaut in space for more than 20 years.
David Willets, minister for Universities and Science, said a new era for British space is dawning.