Watch this space: NI soaring to new heights in the space sector
The UK Space Conference held at the ICC Belfast from the 21st to the 23rd of November 2023 marked a transformative moment for the city and its trajectory in the global space industry. This three-day event brought together visionaries, experts, and innovators from across the globe, converging on Belfast to explore the frontiers of space exploration and technology. Against the backdrop of the ICC Belfast, the conference served as a crucible for cutting-edge ideas, fostering collaborations, and solidifying the city’s position as a burgeoning hub for innovation.
In this blog post, Robert Hill, Director of Northern Ireland Space Office and Head of the Northern Ireland Space Cluster delves into the significance of the UK Space Conference, examining its impact on Belfast’s standing in the global space community and unravelling the exciting possibilities it heralds for the city’s future in the space sector.
Space is responsible for life-changing innovations and has been the catalyst to better understanding the world we live in. It’s a significant emerging market that continues to excite and inspire academia, industry, and government. But it’s also a strategic asset to the Northern Ireland economy with the sector predicted to be worth £400 billion by 2030. We have set our sights on a sizeable £2 billion chunk of the market. An ambitious goal that affirms our position as a leading player in space exploration.
Further affirmation of our growing credentials in the sector is that Belfast played host to the 2023 UK Space Conference, the first time it has ever been held in Northern Ireland. The biennial event brought together a diverse array of individuals to our city from academia and graduates to industry professionals and manufacturers. With over 360 speakers and 115 exhibitors the UK Space Conference was facilitated by ICC Belfast which provided an excellent platform for the sector to exchange ideas, make plans, and establish crucial partnerships.
The three key themes of the UK Space Conference – Discover, Grow and Secure – perfectly align with our region’s strengths and our ambitions. Under the theme of Discover, the focus was on exploring the potential of space, agile technology, and game-changing innovations. Northern Ireland is already recognised for its commitment to developing world-class innovative technology for the aerospace, defence, security, and space sectors with global giants such as Airbus, Boeing, and BAE Systems benefitting from the region’s strong engineering heritage and robust research facilities. It was revealed at the conference that Belfast-based Spirit AeroSystems will collaborate with launch-vehicle manufacturer Skyrora on orbital launch capability by building rocket launch parts.
Grow emphasised the importance of developing space ecosystems and skills capabilities and exploring the value and opportunities in data and AI. And whilst the global space industry is developing at a rapid pace, Northern Ireland is well-positioned to capitalise on this growth with access to world-class universities via the Northern Ireland Space Cluster, an extensive network of further education colleges providing excellent academic and vocational training, and a highly educated and skilled workforce.
The third and final theme Secure addressed the need for resilience by futureproofing our services and continuing to tackle challenges head-on. Here in Northern Ireland this will manifest itself in strong partnerships between academia, industry, and government to drive collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Of course, I was proud to position Belfast’s suitability to host the conference and play my part in bringing business tourism to our city. ICC Belfast provided us the opportunity to demonstrate that we can host an event of this scale and sophistication, but now as I reflect on the event, it’s clear that the conference has left a legacy. Not only did it generate an estimated £2 million in economic impact, it delivered an important opportunity to showcase our capabilities and our growing pedigree, and went a long way to cementing our future as a key player in space. Hosting this prestigious conference will be critical to maintaining momentum and heightening interest in Northern Ireland as we aim to attract investment that will bring our vision and space strategy to life.
Visit Belfast’s Sarah Iluyemi, Senior Manager of Business development, also played a crucial role in working with our local ambassadors to ensure that Belfast was the right fit for UK Space and to showcase our thriving space industry here in Northern Ireland. Sarah commented:
“Attending the UK Space Conference was an inspiring experience which gave me insights into the limitless possibilities of innovation. It also reinforced Belfast’s role as a thriving hub for technological advancement.
The connections made and ideas exchanged during this transformative event will propel our city into a future where the sky is no longer the limit, but a gateway to endless opportunities for growth and advancement.”
– Sarah Iluyemi, Senior Manager – Business Development, Visit Belfast
Robert is Director of Northern Ireland Space Office, Head of the Northern Ireland Space Cluster and a member of Visit Belfast’s Ambassador Circle, a network of business and academic leaders that is critical in securing business events and conferences that to date have generated £400 million for the local economy. To find out more about joining the Ambassador Circle, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.