Northumbria University To Open £50m ‘NESST’ Centre

5th Dec 2023
Northumbria University To Open £50m ‘NESST’ Centre

Northumbria University announced during the 21st – 23rd November UK Space Conference that they are set to build a £50 million space research and development centre. Described as a “game changer” for the UK space sector, the centre will be called the North East Space Skills and Technology Centre (NESST) and will open in 2025. Funding has come from both Lockheed Martin and the UK Space Agency (UKSA), with Northumbria University matching their contributions. 

Professor Andy Long, Northumbria University Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, commented: “This is a pivotal moment, not just for Northumbria University, but for the wider North East region and indeed, for the UK space sector as a whole. 

“This catalytic funding from both the UK Space Agency and Lockheed Martin recognises the world-leading excellence in all aspects of space research at Northumbria University. Quite simply, NESST will be a game-changer for the whole of the North East, ensuring the region becomes a major hub for innovation in the global space economy.”

NESST Funding Breakdown

There will be three major contributors and collaborators in the project: UKSA, Lockheed Martin, and Northumbria University. The lion’s share will come from Northumbria, who will operate and house NESST, in addition to footing £25 million of funding. 

UKSA have provided £10 million via their Space Cluster Infrastructure Fund (SCIF). Northumbria said this division of UKSA is “aimed at increasing the capability, capacity, and connectivity of the UK’s space research and development infrastructure.” They added: “[the funding] is a clear sign of the UK Space Agency’s confidence in the University’s ambitions.”

Lockheed Martin has contributed £15 million and will further collaborate with Northumbria on research and development through NESST. Northumbria University said the deal will encapsulate a “10-year period” where both organisations will also use NESST to engage with STEM projects. Finally, Northumbria will inject the last £25 million through match-funding to hit the £50 million required to deliver NESST. 

What NESST Will Deliver

Credit: Northumbria University

NESST is expected to create more than 350 jobs and drive £260 million into the UK’s Northeastern economy over 30-years. Northumbria University said the centre will “[play] a critical role in the government’s levelling-up agenda” as well as “immediately becoming a catalyst for the wider development of the UK space sector in the North East region.” NESST will replace the university’s Wynne Jones Building at their Newcastle site. 

The centre will soon feature a “laboratory, testing, teaching, collaboration and office spaces”. It will also aspire to become a leader in “optical satellite communications, space weather and space-based energy.” And in recognition of the industry’s ongoing skills shortage, NESST will also concentrate on skills building, education, and training. Northumbria University said they would open the centre to British and international space organisations. That’s in addition to augmenting current ongoing partnerships that the university has established.

Partnership With Lockheed Martin

Northumbria University and Lockheed Martin have been close collaborators since 2022. Notably, one of the projects both organisations have worked on is Northumbria’s development of a laser-based satellite communications system. Lockheed Martin has been involved by heading the systems engineering. 

Previously, Lockheed Martin placed £630,000 into a Northumbria University led machine learning nanojet project. This is in addition to expediting “space-based solar power”. With NESST in particular, Lockheed Martin will be the centres: “first anchor tenant”. Northumbria said the partnership: “[creates] unprecedented links for UK companies to access the global space market.” 

Funding From UKSA

UKSA has also avidly funded many Northumbria University projects. For example, UKSA invested £5 million into their laser satellite communication device. They also injected £1 million into a Northumbria developed laser optical communications terminal. The NESST funding will be the maximum amount available via SCIF and “the largest of all the projects funded”. 

Dr Paul Bate, UKSA CEO, said: “Our space sector has been concentrated in London and the South East, but in recent years we’ve seen the emergence of vibrant clusters across the whole of the country. This is a fantastic opportunity for Northumbria University to further propel the UK to the forefront of world-class research and innovation.”

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