spacesuitWho knew? In the early 1930’s a chap from the Wirral started a society called the British Interplanetary Society (BIS), its first official meeting held in an inauspicious office above Dale Street (some of their wilder imaginings are pictured here). Later, as is the way of things, the organisation moved to London at the request of the members down there. Some things never change, eh?

Still, the Birkenhead-formed group remains the oldest space advocacy association in the world – the American group, formed later, went on to become NASA. This week, the World Museum’s staging an event – 80 years later – look at ways we can develop a sizeable, space-based economy here.

moonship“The original ideal behind the organisation was to turn imagination into reality, eventually establishing the blueprint that NASA later used to land a man on the moon,” says Chris Atherton, the man behind this week’s intriguing Perspectives on Space Enterprise’ event.

As he says, not bad for a bunch of Scousers.

“The legacy of that era is a few books by the founder still held in the library,” Chris says. “But there are no businesses, blue plaques or civic acknowledgement as a way of heritage.”

His event intends – somewhat belatedly – to do something about it.

“It’s aimed at entrepreneurs, business owners, space enthusiasts, policy makers; anyone with a passing interest in space, really,” he says.

The event will feature a series of talks about where the UK space industry is heading in the next 15 years, and workshops on how we might achieve these ambitions.

Chris explains that the UK government recently set out a plan to develop the UK Space industry into a £40 billion industry by 2030.

“Lots of ideas are currently being generated; a space port, hub and spoke centres of excellence, start-up incubators for example. There is already quite a varied space sector within the UK, which includes developing and building satellites and spacecraft components, managing satellite networks. And we’ve paid for an astronaut to go to the ISS.”

“Currently this is a £6bn industry. Using a conservative estimate of 5% growth, the government has calculated that a global market value of £400bn is envisioned for 2030 with 10% of that – £40bn – going to the UK.”

There are, says Chris, plenty of plans being hatched around the country – lots of progress being made on space-sector research. And Liverpool, he argues, should have ambitions to be a part of it.

His own company, Route to Space, uses tethered and high altitude balloons – testing out equipment payloads for miniature satellites.

“My casual interest moved up a level after I went along to a consultation event run by the UK Space agency in Manchester, to consult on innovation and growth strategy,” he says.

“I realised there was no representation from our authorities, which shocked me, especially given there’s this potential market and the Government wants to back it by developing ‘regional’ centres of excellence.”

“I’m hoping this event might build some momentum and grow some businesses in the space sector. Maybe it could show off Liverpool and the potential we have?”

“We have the Astrophysics Institute over in Birkenhead, and we’ve got access to the ESA’s Technology Transfer Centre at Daresbury, as well as LJMU’s Liverpool Telescope, that can all be built on.

“Local government has to prioritise, I understand that. I don’t think it is realistic at the moment that we could build a space hub in Liverpool. It could possibly happen at Daresbury, but not Liverpool… yet. We need those businesses to grow in Liverpool, in the space industry before this could be a possibility…”

On the day that George Osborne wipes Liverpool from the rail map, maybe it’s time we started to look up instead.

Perspectives on Space Enterprise
28 June
World Museum

2 Responses to “The Space Race Started here. Now for the next chapter…”

  1. Matthew Edwards

    Very interesting article. The British Interplanetary Society website identifies Phillip Cleator as the founder of the Society in 1933, but I wonder if the Wirral science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon was involved in any way.

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