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UK Points To Space As The Final Economic Frontier

Conference held in London focuses on role of space technology in economic recovery and combating climate change

While the UK government might be considering stringent cuts in public spending to help reduce the deficit and promote recovery, it seems that investment in space exploration is still on the cards as some experts believe it can actually help boost the economy and combat climate change.

In a statement released this week, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) said that the UK was proud to be host the tenth annual European Inter-parliamentary Space Conference (EISC) held in London earlier this week, which saw experts discuss aspects of space policy including its role in innovation. “It’s fitting for the UK to host the European Inter-parliamentary Space Conference this year,” said business minister Pat McFadden. “Space contributes some £6.5bn a year and this figure is forecast to grow by around five percent every year until 2020.”

According to the BIS, European programmes account for around 70 percent of the UK’s civil spending on space, while the UK has committed €924m to European Space Agency programmes over the next two years. Ian Taylor MP, chairman of the EISC and co-chairman of the Parliamentary Space Committee said the conference was a chance to discuss the future of Europe’s space strategy. “This is our platform to debate amongst Parliamentarians from the leading nations in Europe what direction we want Europe to take in space.”

But while concerns may persist on the worth of investment in space programmes amid the continuing recession, some projects are trying to economise by using technology such as cloud computing. Earlier this month, the European Space Agency (ESA) said it is considering a plan to use Amazon’s hosted computing service EC2 as an alternative to the in-house super-computers needed to crunch the data from an ambitious project to map one thousand million stars.

The agency announced the latest stage of an ongoing investigation with cloud computing specialist The Server Labs (TSL) on the feasibility of moving data processing tasks associated with its Gaia galaxy-mapping project from in-house systems to Amazon EC2. In May this year, TSL announced that it had completed one study into migrating data processing from Gaia to Amazon cloud services.

The investigation has already revealed that cloud computing has advantages in terms of cost, scalability and timing. “The Gaia Cloud experiment has been very successful for us,” said William O’Mullane, Gaia Science operations development director for ESA. “It indicates that bringing the data processing to The Cloud can provide us with savings of up 50 percent compared to using in-house hardware. An additional advantage is that it gives us the ability to scale to far more processors than we could have in-house, which means essentially that we can finish the job sooner.”

In July, the European Space Agency opened a new facility in Oxfordshire which is focusing on a range of projects including a plan to use space data to help track climate change and improve road and rail transport.

Space projects, such as NASA’s recent deliberate collision on the moon, tend to involve gathering and processing large amounts of data, and much of it is expected to move to the cloud. NASA’s staellite data of Earth is being used to track global warming.

According to government figures, the UK space sector currently contributes £6.5bn to the UK economy, supporting around 68,000 direct and indirect jobs. “The recession-busting trends of the space industry has enabled it to successfully ride the downturn, and it is also predicted to grow by an average of 5 percent per year until 2020,” the department of business innovation and skills (BIS) said in a recent statement.