Why Space: The opportunity for Health and Life Science Innovation

Kate Robson Brown, Pete Hodkinson, Nathan Smith, Adam Hawkey, Rochelle Velho, Phil Carvil

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Why space? From unlocking the secrets of the universe to improving the understanding of our own homeworld, the benefits that the utilisation of space brings are only just being realised. This is particularly true for industry sectors, which are becoming growing ‘users’ of space including the Health & Life Sciences sector. This paper brings 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? Advances in remote monitoring are already providing information on disease outbreaks & 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. Through an open call process this paper has gathered >50 authored contributions from across the research community to help broaden our horizons of the still untapped potential for cross-sector innovation. 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. Without the right funding, infrastructure, relationships and agreements, it is challenging for UK scientists to develop and sustain long-term research programmes in collaboration with the international agencies, principally ESA, and other commercial partners. From the thematic chapters and underpinning individual author contributions, there is a need for bridging mechanisms between capability and access to overcome the barriers to do space-related research for both exploration and terrestrial benefit. The recommendations outlined in this paper draw from these diverse inputs to address the current challenges faced by this sector. From life science and human factors, to biomedical, AI and education there are key steps which can help facilitate the unlocking of this potential. Beyond dedicated funding, facilitated community building and knowledge exchange centres will be paramount to ensure a joined up and collaborative exploitation of this cross-sector interface, which can raise the UK’s profile on the International stage. This paper is one of these steps and over time it could become an exercise to take stock, reflect on what other opportunities are on the horizon and create new R&D connections. Beyond the Health and Life Sciences will be other sectoral opportunities, including in energy, materials chemicals and more. This paper provides a potential blueprint for these areas to explore their own ‘Why Space’ journey to ensure that the existing excellence in research is harnessed, crosssector ideation is championed and new collaborative opportunities for innovation are fostered.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUK Space Life and Biomedical Sciences (LABS) Association
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2021


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