Written Evidence Submitted by the UK Space Life and Biomedical Science Association
The UK is a world leader in both the Space (particularly satellite systems and telecommunications), and Health and Life Sciences Sectors, which creates a unique opportunity to better understand and grow this powerful intersection.
From companies in the UK developing new imaging methods derived from space technology to using satellite applications to support drone delivery of Covid-19 testing kits, the impact of space upon health and life science innovation is already occurring. Advances in remote monitoring are already providing information on disease outbreaks and natural disasters to aid response management. Growing ubiquitous connectivity is better enabling the provision of health management particularly in remote locations and utilisation of earth observation techniques are helping inform farming practices. These are just a few examples of how existing space assets are being used to support life on Earth.
Platforms ranging from small satellites (e.g. cube-sats) in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), to dedicated laboratories on the International Space Station (ISS) are being utilised to advance our understanding of how certain fundamental processes adapt outside of our home environment. Studying how plants can 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 and knowledge for humanity's next age of exploration.
With the UK building its space launch capacity, growing the launch provider ecosystem as well as its continued commitment of investment in the European Space Agency, the opportunity to utilise space infrastructure (including low earth orbit) and technology is set to grow.
We believe it is vital that this inquiry into the future UK Space Strategy includes strong positive commitment to continued investment in human spaceflight and associated research to facilitate continued growth in these fields. This would provide another avenue to enhance the UK’s position, potential for international influence, inspiration and opportunities for innovative science and technology development for space and terrestrial benefit.
In order to capitalise on this R&D opportunity and the growing commercial ecosystem (including tourism), it requires an understanding of how access to this unique environment can facilitate programmes of excellent basic science, as well as support government ambitions in developing the UK’s world leading research and innovation system and global collaborations.
Below we present more information on the UK Space LABS association and provide thoughts captured during our own paper exercise asking “Why Space? The opportunity for Health and Life Science Innovation”. We have also made recommendations that we hope will help to inform the discussions around UK Space Strategy so it can facilitate growth and opportunities in this area.
UK Space Life and Biomedical Science Association role in this
The UK Space Life and Biomedical Science Association (UK Space LABS) was created in 2014 through the merger of the UK Space Biomedicine Association - a student lead organisation for the advancement of space medicine and life sciences in the UK - and the UK Space Biomedicine Consortium - a collaboration of institutions with space biomedicine related interests or activities.
The purpose of the association is to advance the research and conduct of space life and medical sciences and related sciences in the UK. Our members consist of clinicians, academics, government representatives, early career researchers and students, industry and military professionals.
As the global community seeks to recover post Covid-19, the opportunity to galvanise our proven excellence in health and life sciences, and the strong investments in developing sovereign space launch capability, could ultimately become a powerful catalyst for future innovation and strengthen existing global ties.
To capitalise on these opportunities, following several workshops/conferences and consultations, the UK Space LABS association led an exercise to understand Why Space for Health and Life Science Innovation. Through an open call process this exercise gathered >50 authored contributions from across the research community to help broaden horizons of the still untapped potential for cross-sector innovation. It brought voices from within the Health & Life Science Sector and the Space Sector together to ask what are the possibilities of space? How can these be realised? What could this mean for our future? The recurring themes and potential benefits as well as suggested recommendations to drive forward opportunities in this area are summarised below.
There are key potential benefits across scientific, economic and societal domains including:-
In order to harness the interface between the Space and the Health & Life Science Sectors to foster new research, innovation and translational activities, six recommendations were drawn out from this exercise including:-
Space life and biomedical research conducted on space platforms, facilitated by the recommendations mentioned above, has the potential to beneﬁt the UK across scientiﬁc (building capability and expertise), economic (supporting new commercial ventures and job creation) and societal (solving important societal challenges from ageing to resilience and mental health) domains. To secure this beneﬁt, there has to be the right governance in place to enable eﬀective knowledge transfer and exploitation.
Beyond the Health and Life Sciences will be other sectoral opportunities, including in energy, materials chemicals and more. This exercise provides a potential blueprint for these areas to explore their own ‘Why Space’ journey to ensure that the existing excellence in research is harnessed, cross-sector ideation is championed and new collaborative opportunities for innovation are fostered.
The full paper exercise is available below and we hope that this provides valuable evidence base and examples for you to inform these aspects of the future UK Space Strategy. http://www.ukspacelabs.co.uk/documents/space-life-science-paper.pdf