Watch this Space! An inspiring fan-girl moment at Space2Connect

Posted January 23, 2020

By Maria Noguer, Programme Manager of RE-SAT & Climate Programme Manager at the Institute for Environmental Analytics


With a stellar 1,000 space innovators, the largest-ever space applications networking event in the UK rightly made headlines, but it is also the quality of those connections that make Space2Connect an unmissable date in my calendar. Not to mention the chance to see my radio hero in real life!

There were 300 participants in the 1st year, ~500 the second year and ~1000 in 2020, Space2Connect has given a strong message that the sector is growing and those working in it are very eager to connect, share ideas and create valuable networks.

Emily Gravestock, Head of Applications Strategy at the UK Space Agency, the brainchild of this annual event, opened the conference in Westminster, introducing Jim Al-Khalili, presenter of The Life Scientific on Radio 4 and Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey to give the opening address.

Jim could have been talking just to me!

I was over the moon, as I am a big fan! As expected, Jim delivered an entertaining and informative speech highlighting the importance of space data for science. He also paid tribute to Dame Julia Slingo, former Met Office Chief Scientist and former Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading, acknowledging that use of satellite data for weather and climate modelling has revolutionised the field. He added: “We definitely need space data to map and understand how our planet and climate are changing.”

He could have been talking directly to me – our energy analytics platform, RE-SAT, is definitely making the most of weather modelling to support Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in their transition to renewable energy. After only 30 minutes in the conference, I knew it was going to be a great day!

The event had three sets of parallel panel sessions and a large exhibition with a mix of private and public organisations such as Telespazio and the Met Office. There were also projects funded by the UKSA International Partnership Programme (IPP), such as FOREST2020 protecting and restoring tropical forests through improving monitoring from space and EASOS: the Earth and Sea Observation System, and start-ups such as  Energeo which is crowdfunding to support its ambition to use geospatial big data to improve the sustainability of towns and cities.

Making connections for RE-SAT

The exhibition space was the core of the event, held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, where conversations came easily as people moved about the different stands – the enthusiasm could be measured by the noise level in the hall! Among the stands I visited, I’d like to highlight those that directly relate to our RE-SAT work: Energeo was one of them. One aspect of their service is assessing land and building suitability for solar PV, reducing the initial surveying costs. They also provide a SaaS (software as a service) platform to understand asset location and model the current and future impact of those assets on the electricity network. We also talked to CommonSensing, also funded by the IPP and also operating in Vanuatu, our newest RE-SAT SIDS partner. Their project is working to build climate resilience in three SIDS: Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.

Space2Connect had sessions on Government use of space data with short addresses from the Environment Agency (EA), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), Office of National Statistics (ONS) and Department for International Development (DFID), as part of the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP). The EA, as expected is a big consumer of satellite data for flood forecasting, to support incidents, for pollution from soil monitoring, etc. Defra had published a policy paper, ‘Earth Observation: roadmap for use of EO in Defra (2015-2020)’ and they had launched the Defra EO Centre of Excellence (EO CoE) with the Earth Observation Data Integration Pilot (EODIP) as their flagship project.

Sharing challenges and successes

Chris Lee, the UK Space Agency’s Chief Scientist and Head of Sustainable Development, chaired the Sustainable Development session, where several IPP projects were presented. The UKSA IPP was recently recognised by Space & Satellite Professionals International in the Better Satellite World Awards. All the projects emphasized the key role that the international partners played in the success of the project and the sustainability of the projects beyond UKSA funding. Without these strong partnerships with our SIDS stakeholder partners, our RE-SAT IPP-funded project would not have been possible. Listening to some of the challenges, success stories and lessons learned from other grantees gave us a true sense of team spirit, which I have not experience in any other past programmes I have been involved in.

Nick Appleyard, Head of Downstream Business Applications at the European Space Agency, closed the conference referring to the increase in participants, as it has been doubling per year…will we have 32,000 participants in five years’ time? My heartfelt thanks go to the UKSA staff team who so wonderfully organised this event but 32,000 … that would be a challenge! These events can make you feel energised or fearful, but Nick remarked that, in his experience, the rewards from making the effort to connect with others always pays-off and brighter ideas have come about as a result.

More motivated than ever

I couldn’t agree more – I returned to Reading having met potential new collaborators within the UK and globally, new sources of data to explore and potential new ways to expand RE-SAT, such as assessing risks to energy infrastructure to increase their resilience.

I certainly feel even more motivated than ever to deliver the maximum benefits to SIDS through RE-SAT, working in partnership with governments and utility agencies around the world to support their transition from fossil fuel to reliable renewable energy, helping them to achieve their Paris Agreement target, bringing confidence to decision-making and investment; making a difference thanks to the support of the UKSA IPP and the pioneering, innovative UK space sector.

Watch this SPACE!

Jim Al-khalili pictured at the podium at Space2Connect
Jim Al-Khalili, presenter of The Life Scientific on Radio 4 and Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey.
A flier promoting details of Space2Connect