Space GCSE qualification launched
The UK's first space science technology qualification has been launched.
The GCSE covers the diet and health of astronauts, mapping, the geology of planets and provides insight into an industry which contributes £9 billion a year to the economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs.
Pupils in Northern Ireland began studying for the innovative award at the beginning of the academic year.
Expert Dr Leslie Orr said: "We want to grow the space industry in Northern Ireland. To do this we need to develop the skills and interest in the sector. The timing of this qualification is right."
Interest in space science has been generated by the accomplishments of people like Nobel physics prize winner Professor Peter Higgs, who discovered the Higgs boson, and the exploits of popular astronauts like the retired commander of the international space station Chris Hadfield.
Northern Ireland's Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) worked with government jobs agency Invest NI and the Aerospace Defence and Security Industries Northern Ireland organisation to develop the qualification.
It will give learners the necessary skills and expertise to work in the growing space industry.
CCEA chief executive Richard Hanna said space science technology represented a fantastic opportunity for teachers to develop an exciting new approach to delivering Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects
The Northern Ireland Space Special Interest Group (NISSIG) was formed during the summer to aid efforts by local companies to benefit from what the Government's Science and Technology Committee describes as "one of our economy's fastest growing sectors".
Dr Orr manages ADS NI, a trade organisation representing the aerospace, defence, security and space industries.
He said Northern Ireland could build on its history of aerospace, with Canadian firm Bombardier operating there for 100 years, and added that the space industry offered opportunities for a wide range of industries.