Why Space?

Why space? From unlocking the secrets of the universe to improving the understanding of our ownhomeworld, the benefits that the utilisation of space brings are only just being realised. This isparticularly true for industry sectors, which are becoming growing ‘users’ of space including theHealth & Life Sciences sector. This paper brings voices from within the Health & Life Science Sectorand the Space Sector together to ask what are the possibilities of space? How can these be realised?What could this mean for our future?

Advances in remote monitoring are already providing information on disease outbreaks & naturaldisasters to aid response management. Growing ubiquitous connectivity is better enabling theprovision of health management particularly in remote locations and utilisation of earth observationtechniques are helping inform farming practices. These are just a few examples of how existing spaceassets are being used to support life on Earth.

Platforms ranging from small satellites (e.g. cube-sats) in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), to dedicatedlaboratories on the International Space Station (ISS) are being utilised to advance our understandingof how certain fundamental processes adapt outside of our home environment. Studying how plantscan create root structures in the absence of Earth’s gravity to radiation effects on biological systems,are helping us understand not just how to enhance life on Earth, but also to provide the tools andknowledge for humanity's next age of exploration.

Through an open call process this paper has gathered >50 authored contributions from across theresearch community to help broaden our horizons of the still untapped potential for cross-sectorinnovation. As the global community seeks to recover post covid-19, the opportunity to galvanise ourproven excellence in health and life sciences, and the strong investments in developing sovereignspace launch capability, could ultimately become a powerful catalyst for future innovation andstrengthen existing global ties.

Without the right funding, infrastructure, relationships and agreements, it is challenging for UKscientists to develop and sustain long-term research programmes in collaboration with theinternational agencies, principally ESA, and other commercial partners. Thematic chapters andunderpinning individual author contributions highlight the need for bridging mechanisms betweencapability and access to overcome the barriers to doing space-related research for both explorationand terrestrial benefit.

The recommendations outlined in this paper draw from these diverse inputs to address the currentchallenges faced by this sector. From life science and human factors, to biomedical, AI and educationthere are key steps which can help facilitate the unlocking of this potential. Beyond dedicatedfunding, facilitated community building and knowledge exchange centres will be paramount toensure a joined up and collaborative exploitation of this cross-sector interface, which can raise theUK’s profile on the International stage. This paper is one of these steps and over time it couldbecome an exercise to take stock, reflect on what other opportunities are on the horizon and createnew R&D connections.

Beyond the Health and Life Sciences will be other sectoral opportunities, including in energy,materials chemicals and more. This paper provides a potential blueprint for these areas to exploretheir own ‘Why Space’ journey to ensure that the existing excellence in research is harnessed, crosssector ideation is championed and new collaborative opportunities for innovation are fostered.

Download the paper here.

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