Data is ‘next big opportunity’ for UK space industry

The explosion in data available from satellites is creating a huge business opportunity for the UK, according to Astrium’s engineering chief.

Finding ways to combine the rapidly growing data sets collected by Europe’s satellites, for example photo images and positioning data, could become one of the space industry’s key growth areas, said the satellite manufacturer’s head of engineering, Patrick Wood.

Speaking today at The Engineer Conference in Birmingham, Wood said there was a need to recruit more software engineers into the industry and engage with small businesses to develop the technology to make use of this data, which is often made freely available by the European Space Agency.

‘The amount of data available from space is growing exponentially,’ Wood told The Engineer after his speech to the conference. ‘People are finding really innovative ways of combining data, processing them and creating pseudo-images that show new things.’

The obvious example of this, he said, was Google Earth, which combines satellite images and local information, offering a smooth transition between different levels of scale.

There were similar opportunities for applications in areas such as maritime surveillance, combining satellite imagery with positional data on shipping lanes to provide detailed, real-time mapping information.


Echoing comments made by conference keynote speaker Bob Joyce, group engineering director for Jaguar Land Rover, Wood told the conference the problem with recruiting young engineers was not that they weren’t good enough but that there weren’t enough of them, particularly in software engineering.

‘I can get the quality,’ he said. ‘I can get the best out of the universities. It’s the quantity we need. We produce some excellent engineers in the UK. We don’t have enough.’

One of the solutions, he said, was to make more people aware of the opportunities in the space industry in the UK.

‘The UK space industry has done a lot over the last five years to promote itself. We’ve tended to come from a military background so we’ve been quiet about what we do in the past. Now we’re going out and talking about our work.’