Alongside Professor Mini C. Saaj, I had the opportunity to attend the British Interplanetary Society’s 17th annual Reinventing Space Conference, held this year in Belfast from 12-14 November. As an undergraduate student at the University of Lincoln, I found this an incredible experience meeting dozens of people from the UK space industry as well as visitors from all over the world. I would like to thank the university for travel support.

This year’s conference was focused on near-earth activities, access to space and space situational awareness. To give a brief overview, our access to space is under threat. Ever since the advent of space travel, Earth’s orbit has been filling up with debris. Upper stages of rockets and decommissioned satellites often do not return to Earth but instead orbit, lifeless and silent, for years. If these objects collide, they will send showers of fragments hurtling around the Earth presenting a danger to several operational spacecraft. The fear is now with space being so crowded, we face a situation named ‘Kessler Syndrome’ in which there are so many of these undetectable or untrackable fragments that entry into space becomes dangerous if not impossible.

The meeting presented two distinct challenges to the industry, the direct challenge of debris, and the indirect challenge of outreach. With the first golden era of human exploration behind us, many players in the space sector both institutional and commercial are facing a crisis of education and engagement with space. One anecdote that particularly struck me was that of a United States Senator, failing even at a basic level to understand that satellites and more public funding for global positioning satellites is vital in maintaining applications such as Google Maps. Another was from a company local to Lincoln in the sector. Explaining that human resources departments have in the past erroneously placed astrophysics graduates in engineering and technical positions, over electrical or mechanical engineers at the same level. The space sector needs to be doing a lot more in this area to recapture the imaginations of the public and particularly students.

Also present at the conference were representatives from various UK spaceports, both extant and in the planning phase. Forming a key part of the government’s 2018 plans to expand the UK space industry as part of their commercial ‘LaunchUK’ programme. It sets forth bold aims for the UK to claim 10% of the global market share of the sector by 2030 and by the 2040s, to be a global leader in small satellite and spaceplane technology.

I hope through the Lincoln Students’ Space Society (L3S) starting this year that we can do our bit to help in this effort. As president of L3S, I invite anyone interested to please contact me to get involved. We aim to run events and competitions throughout the year in concert with the University of Lincoln, UKSEDS and the UK Space Agency.

Alastair Davison, President of University of Lincoln Space Society


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