A University of Ulster scientist helping Nasa develop the next generation of space probes has encouraged Northern Ireland industry to tap in to the sector.
Roy Sterritt has been named a co-inventor for six new patents relating to computer-based space exploration and ground control systems issued to Nasa by the US Patent Office.
He is a member of the university's Computer Science Research Institute and is internationally recognised as a leading innovator in self-managing and self-healing computer-based systems.
Despite the current economic downturn, the UK space sector is growing at around 10% per annum.
The University of Ulster researcher said: "The 260 companies that are involved in the UK space sector have an annual turnover of £7.5 billion. Northern Ireland has contributed much to the world as a birthplace of invention in engineering technology.
"The aerospace industry here continues to consolidate that reputation and its historic and contemporary success puts us in a prime position to grow and develop in the space sector."
The lecturer in Informatics in the School of Computing and Mathematics at the university's Jordanstown campus has investigated ways of making the next generation of space craft self-managing, instead of mission-control having to guide them.
"Autonomic computing operates like the human body's autonomic nervous system which self-manages biological systems," said the academic, whose work has also been recognised by Nasa at the New Technology Awards ceremony in Mitchellville, Maryland.
"It regulates vital functions such as telling the heart how fast to beat and monitors and adjusts blood flow without conscious effort. Our research is aimed at developing computer systems that would work in the same way without requiring constant human intervention."
He said the innovations could provide the software to power the robot computer swarms which may soon be exploring Mars and areas of outer space.