Space travel has been in the news recently with the last space shuttle flight on the 8th July 2011 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14063682). The ending of the operational space shuttle era which has lasted almost thirty years after its development has led to recent discussions concerning the future of NASA funding and space flight and research from national and international collaboration perspectives.
Here in the UK the European Space Agency (ESA) has a technology centre in Harwell headed by Martin Ditter. He explained the rational of the ESA UK location and the relationship with technology and research (http://www.theengineer.co.uk/in-depth/interviews/martin-ditter-of-esa-uk-harwell-research-centre/1000835.article).
In terms of enterprise ESA have recently opened a Business Incubation Centre to utilise mature space technologies to create opportunities within other business sectors. In addition Research Council, EU and KTP priorities include space as a preferred area. Other activity includes the UK Space Agency established in April 2011 as part of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.
At an educational level Space is identified a key subject area to enthuse young people and stimulate STEM subject interest. Space technology has a university undergraduate and master’s level presence at several universities linked with engineering studies such as electronics, aerospace, robotics and mechanical. Other related opportunities such as space tourism (http://www.virgingalactic.com/) will only increase public activity and interest in Space.
This could be an opportunity for HEI’s to develop niche research areas related to space.