After years sitting on the sidelines of human spaceflight activities, Britain is now aiming to reach for the stars with a new national space biomedicine strategy. Guest blogger Simon Evetts, (Wyle GmbH, Crew Medical Support Office, European Astronaut Centre) explains how the UK is aiming to leverage Zero-G medicine for space and terrestrial benefits.
The UK does not take part in human spaceflight (HSF), this has been a tradition for some decades now. Apart from the loss of technological, operational and scientific expertise and knowledge that can be gained from HSF participation, non-participation prevents the UK from being adequately positioned and prepared for the forthcoming era of commercial HSF. In mid-May SpaceX will dock the first-ever commercial space vehicle to a space station. Meanwhile Virgin Galactic intends to start journeys to the edge of space from next year and the number of viable commercial space companies globally is now in double figures (Bigelow, Space Adventures, Blue Origin, SpaceX and many more). In the next decade or two we will see a huge increase in human activity in space. Active participation in HSF will become a necessity for developed nations wishing to retain some relevance in global endeavours.
In June last year Major Tim Peake (British European Space Agency astronaut) instigated a meeting of representatives from a number of UK organisations involved in space life science matters to consider the pursuit of a unified, national space biomedicine strategy. A consortium was formed (The UK Space Biomedicine Consortium) resulting in an agreement to develop and pursue a strategy that would use space and space analogues (e.g. submarine and Antarctic environments) as a vehicle for biomedical research to benefit terrestrial healthcare. The Consortium consists of globally important universities such as Imperial, UCL and King’s College London and commercial companies with specialist knowledge and experience of human activity in extreme environment (e.g. QinetiQ and Wyle). Wyle in particular wrote and manages NASA’s Bioastronautics Roadmap for HSF.
Along with astronaut Tim Peake, the other public face of space medicine is UCL’s Dr Kevin Fong, who as well as being a BBC Horizon science presenter, is also a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace Medicine Group.
Space industry growth
At present the UK government and others are driving all efforts towards economic growth. Growth is needed to crawl out of the economic mire we are currently drowning in. The UK space industry as a whole has grown by 9% through the periods of recession since 2007; few industries have managed this. The UK Space Biomedicine Consortium is producing and will pursue a strategy that will provide a means for industrial and academic growth in the next decade (and beyond), which will positively impact terrestrial healthcare and which will position the UK appropriately for the impending commercial HSF revolution. The next step in the development of the strategy is to meet with NASA, ESA and other experts to discuss the international perspective and to present to the British public what the UK space biomedicine community is involved in and what its plans are and indeed to discuss the use of the space environment for other non-life science research and practices. This will occur at a meeting organised by the UK Space Biomedicine Association in Aberdeen on 16-17 June this year (details below).
The subject will also be covered in more detail in an upcoming article in Aerospace International.
UK Space Environments Conference “UK Research & Education for Space & Terrestrial Benefit”
16 – 17 June, 2012 Stratosphere Science Centre Aberdeen
Aberdeen will play host to the inaugural UK Space Environments Conference on 16 and 17 June this year. Leading UK and international researchers from the fields of space biomedicine, astrobiology, microgravity-physics and astrochemistry will present and discuss details of their work and plans for the future.
Dr Jeff Davis, NASA’s Director of Space Life Science and Medical Operations will present on the topic ‘Collaboration for Space and Terrestrial Benefit’ and provide an opportunity for delegates to discuss human space flight matters with one of the world’s leading experts in this field. Prof Charles Cockell, one of the UK’s leading astrobiologists, will key note on day two presenting the subject of ‘Astrobiology R&D in Earth Orbit’. There will also be presentations from UK astronaut, Major Tim Peake, and updates from the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency concerning humans in space topics.
Last year the UK Space Biomedicine Consortium was established. This association of over 20 academic and commercial space related organisations will be identifying and pursuing a national space biomedicine strategy in the months ahead. This unified strategy will act as a foundation for future UK commercial and government human spaceflight activities in the UK. Open discussions of the potential strategic themes will occur during the conference. Day one of the conference will be devoted to Space Biomedicine.
In 2011, the UK Space Agency set up the UK Space Environments Working Group. This group exists to advise the agency on matters related to using aspects of the space environment for R&D and education purposes. The chairman and members of the Space Environments WG will present on day two.
An open-house poster opportunity exists for any space related organisation to present a poster of the details of their company and/or related activities. Registration is £91 (£67 for students) for two days of excellent content with lunch included on both days.
Further details and registration arrangements can be found here