Space-planes, trains, and automobiles

Increasingly, industries which barely crossed paths in the past, find themselves sat at the same table discussing the future.


Barely a day goes by without a new electric-vehicle announcement. And while most activity centres on manufacturers looking to engineer a route out of recession, an interesting by-product of this low-carbon momentum is that the auto industry – for so long wedded to suppliers of traditional technology – is having to look elsewhere for its technology. Increasingly, industries which barely crossed paths in the past, find themselves sat at the same table discussing the future.


The Innovation in Crops (Incrops) project that will be launched later this week in Cambridge is a case in point.


Led by the University of East Anglia and jointly funded by the EU and the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), the aim of the initiative is to develop new industrial applications for non-food crops.


Those involved believe that our changing climate and the demand for sustainable low-carbon materials could provide some big business opportunities not least in the automotive industry, which has been investigating the replacement of man-made materials for a number of years.


Staying on the subject of transport, our national rail network will be back under the spotlight this week as train operator Southeastern opens its high-speed Javelin service between Kent and London to the public.


The limited ‘preview’ service, which will run until the system’s full introduction this winter, will whisk customers between Ashford and London at 140mph, reducing the journey time from 82 to 37 minutes.


Hailed by the government as the dawn of a new high-speed era, and by Network Rail boss Iain Coucher as the shape of things to come the service, sure to draw envious glances from rail users all over the UK, will pour more fuel on the great high-speed rail debate. What do you think? Is the Javelin really the way forward? Or should our transport planners plump for a more radical solution? Maglev anyone?


Finally, an intriguing insight into an emerging industry as the leading lights in the burgeoning space tourism business gather in London tomorrow.


Delegates at the conference (Space Tourism: A New Industry in the Making) will hear from Virgin Galactic, EADS Astrium (and everyone else queuing up for a slice of this potentially lucrative pie) about the latest technical developments in a field whose rapid rise has drawn attention to the glacial pace of change in other areas of the space industry. Being realistic, space tourism is likely to be the sole preserve of the ridiculously wealthy for many years to come. But while budget package tours to the moon may still be a long way off there are nevertheless many UK companies with the technology and expertise to cash in on this nascent area of transport.



Jon Excell
Deputy Editor