New CEO at the helm of UK Space Agency

27th Aug 2021
New CEO at the helm of UK Space Agency

Dr Paul Bate has been appointed as the new CEO of the UK Space Agency (UKSA). His position was approved by the Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation, Amanda Solloway. Dr Bate will start his new role in September, and the space community is beginning to wonder what this means for the future of the UK space industry. 

The Man

Having studied particle physics at universities in Manchester and Paris, Dr Bate then would go on to get a PhD in the subject in Hamburg before embarking on a decorated career in the healthcare industry, working across both commercial and public sectors. 

Notably, Dr Bate worked as a civil servant under two UK Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and David Cameron. Highlights from his career include: Working as the Managing Director for NHS services at Babylon; being a member of the Care Quality Commission board; and working as David Cameron’s Senior Health and Adult Care advisor between 2011 and 2013.

Dr Bate has a credible reputation and an extraordinary working background. However, considering his previous appointments that have centred around healthcare, what does this spell for the UKSA?

Upon the announcement in June 2021, current UKSA CEO, Dr Graham Turnock, stated:

“Leading this organisation is a job in a million – and I am honoured to have worked with the exceptional UK Space Agency team for four years. In those four years, we have seen our agency and our sector achieve more than anyone could have expected. As we stand on the threshold of a new and exciting chapter in our history as a space-faring nation, Paul’s insights and experience promise to deliver more great things for the UK in space.”

The Mission

With a solid track record of success behind him, Dr Bate joins the UKSA at a crucial period as billions of pounds worth of investment flood into the UK space industry. So, what does Dr Bate have to offer the star gazing nation?

Well, Dr Bate has described the space sector as one that is “vital for critical infrastructure, defence, and economic growth”, noting that it is a field that “ignites the imagination” of the public. Given the current upward trajectory of government and commercial space programmes, he’s not wrong.

At present the UK has several major space projects in place, with the development of several UK-based spaceports and a major satellite mega-constellation being at the forefront of these efforts. Whilst his appointment may lead some to question whether or not UK space will be geared more towards healthcare, the reality is that Dr Bates is considerably talented at growth, in both private and public sectors. 

Amanda Solloway highlighted: 

“Paul has an impressive track record of working with private and public sector providers to deliver growth and value for money, and to use new digital technology in new, accessible and cost-effective ways. These are exactly the skills we need as we seek not just to grow our space sector, but to ensure that the benefits of our drive to cement the UK as a world-leading space nation reach all our communities.”

UKSA Projects

Let’s now take a look at what is currently underway in the UK space sector, and it seems only appropriate to begin with the healthcare sector. 

Healthcare Solutions: In April of 2021, the UKSA announced that it would be working with EU space agencies to develop new services to support high-tech developments in hospitals.

Both the UKSA and European Space Agency (ESA) have pledged £5 million of funding to the Hampshire Together programme. The project is a part of the UKs Health Infrastructure Plan that includes the development of 30 new hospitals in England by 2030.

According to reports, tech firms are being encouraged to provide proposals for ‘space mission inspired’ services and technologies. These will be reviewed by experts from all the aforementioned parties. The experts will pay special attention to ideas that are centred on the development and design of services to support these new hospitals and their respective communities        

The potential scope of the project is rather huge, especially in the wake of Covid-19, as these proposals could lead to the creation of new telemedicine and e-health solutions, including diagnostic tools, drones, supply chain innovations, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

First of all, a new facility in Hampshire will be the testing grounds for pioneering technologies, which the ESA suggests could include the integration of tech that was first leveraged on International Space Station (ISS) missions.

Earth Observation: In a joint effort between the UK, EU, and Japan, a programme called EarthCARE (Earth Clouds, Aerosols and Radiation Explorer) is underway. The project will see a new satellite, namely EarthCARE, launched in to orbit to gather a better understanding of the relationship between clouds, radiation and aerosol, all of which play roles in the regulation of our climate. 

EarthCARE is the sixth satellite in ESA’s Living Planet Programme, and it will be leveraging cutting-edge technologies to educate us on how humans are impacting the natural process. This project dates back to 2008, when ESA first signed a contract to create the satellite. The UK will be responsible for manufacturing a large amount of the onboard hardware and tech, which includes cameras, control mechanisms and vital communication technologies.

Spaceports: At the very top of these ambitions is the UK’s development of 3 vertical launching spaceports, and 3 horizontal launch spaceports. Together, these huge projects will see the UK become a spacefaring nation, as well as becoming historical landmarks that will see the nation launch its first ever vertical rocket into space.

One horizontally launching space station will be based on the coast of England in Newquay, Cornwall; heading up the effort is billionaire Richard Branson, who for some years has worked to launch his Virgin Orbit dreams into space, and only a few weeks ago, that dream was realised

Whilst this launch was indeed from U.S. soil, it is anticipated that Virgin Orbit will be launching in 2022 from the UK. 

Following that two of the vertical launch sites, Shetland Space Centre and Sutherland Space Port, both of which are based in Scotland. At present there are some issues regarding the environmental impacts of both launch sites as they are being built on contentious grounds. 

However, these two spaceports have significant backing from the likes of U.S. aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, as well as Europe/Scotland-based firms Orbex and Skyrora, respectively. 

Stars in Their Eyes

The above examples only account for a few of the numerous projects and programmes taking place in the UK, and the appointment of Dr Bate comes at an incredibly important time for the nation’s ambitions. 

Next year, commercial spaceflights will be made available to the public, a move confirmed by the UK’s Department for Transport on July 29th, 2021. With numerous collaborations and projects on the go, Dr Bate certainly has his work cut out for him, but it seems as though he has stepped into the shade of a tree planted before his time, under which he can certainly capitalise to bring the UK into orbit.

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