Square Kilometre Array

Space sector 'offers huge opportunities' for manufacturers

Traditional manufacturing companies in north-east England are being urged to look for new business in space technology.

That was the premise of the Spacetech 2012 conference held on 9 February and organised by County Durham Development Company (CDDC), the strategic investment arm of Durham County Council, to promote the potential of a sector worth some £7.5bn to the UK.

Catherine Johns, director of innovation development at CDDC, said the event had been held in County Durham because many space-related components are “made by engineering and manufacturing companies, and the north-east retains a strong manufacturing sector”.

Dr Ruth Mallors, director of the Aerospace, Aviation and Defence Knowledge Transfer Network, urged delegates to maximise their chances of securing business by using the networks available to them. “The opportunities are huge in the space sector,” she said. “There really is something for everyone.”

One example from systems engineer Tim Stevenson is the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, an array of 3,000 antennas due to be built in Australia or South Africa between 2016 and 2024. Stevenson said the project would create “thousands of high-quality jobs”, both in the UK and on site. “There are great opportunities for forward-thinking companies,” he said. The project would need “IT on all scales, from microcontrollers to supercomputers” as well as power generation and distribution equipment such as renewable technology.

Part of the reason for the SKA project’s suitability to the manufacturing sector is its large scale and reliance on mass production. “We’ll be looking for companies that can offer advanced manufacturing techniques and large production runs for the antennas and the millions of elements behind them,” explained Stevenson.

Included among speakers highlighting the space industry’s need for anything from specialised wiring to novel welding techniques was Durham Precision Engineering, which has been working with the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics on noise reduction techniques for the SKA array. “We were looking to diversify and the SKA project offered an ideal opportunity to do that,” said business development manager Geoff Mason. “Some businesses may be put off by the high-tech space industry, but the work we’re doing is not much different from what we do normally, making parts for clients such as Land Rover, Nissan and Jaguar.”

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