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Space agency searches for young people's innovative satellite ideas

Joseph Flaig

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

A space agency challenge aims to improve life on Earth by developing innovative satellite proposals from the UK’s young engineers and scientists.

People aged 11–22 could secure a spot in the fastest growing sector of the economy and a share of a £50,000 prize in the SatelLife Challenge, led by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) with judges from the European Space Agency (ESA), the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell and the sector.

The competition, running for a second year, searches for ideas which could use data collected from space to benefit the economy, public health or the environment. Previous winners received a mix of expert guidance, including support to build prototypes, business development advice and a visit to a satellite factory.

The UK space industry builds 40% of the world’s small satellites and 25% of the world’s telecommunications satellites. It supports 40,000 jobs and generates £14bn in revenue across the country.

“Satellites are shaping our society and increasingly important for our economy,” said science minister Jo Johnson. “Every second they send information around the world, keep shipping lanes and flightpaths clear and help us get to where we want to be.”

Young people will be an “integral part” of growing the UK’s share of the global space market to 10% by 2030, Johnson added, a goal included in the recent Industrial Strategy. “We need to ensure the potential benefits of space are felt across the whole economy and encourage young British entrepreneurs to develop ideas that rival the best in the world.”

An app using satellite data to provide information on coastal flood risks clinched 14-year-old James Pearson the overall prize in 2017. Since winning, he met experts including British ESA astronaut Tim Peake and used his prize money to develop his idea.

“I have really had to push myself to learn new things,” he said. “So far, I have continued to get my website operational, I’ve been scanning the satellites for more images and I’ve increased my computing power.”

Proposals like James' which use existing data and technology could start having a positive impact "within a matter of months," said Emily Gravestock, head of applications strategy at the UKSA, to Professional Engineering.

“It is vital for the agency and industry to listen to the innovative ideas of young people," she added. "Young people are likely to be the entrepreneurs and innovators of the future, and therefore we are keen to increase the understanding of what satellites can do now, and what opportunities they provide in the future.”

The best individual proposal and best team will each win £7,500, with a further seven entries receiving £5,000.

The competition closes on 25 February. For more information, visit the website.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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