Groundbreaking ceremony for Space Park Leicester
Leicester took its first steps into the future of the space industry and research today as work began at the £100 million Space Park Leicester, with a ground-breaking ceremony attended by the Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP.
Opening in 2021, Space Park Leicester will create an exciting new regional cluster in the UK, integrating industry with academia; downstream space data and its applications with upstream engineering and integrating research with manufacturing.
The landmark initiative is being developed by the University of Leicester in collaboration with local, national and international partners including Leicester City Council and the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership.
Science and Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: “The UK’s space sector is booming, bringing with it new advanced technologies and high-quality new jobs across the country. The new Leicester Space Park will be another boost for national space research as well as the local economy, building on the city’s rich space heritage.”
President and Vice-chancellor, Professor Nishan Canagarajah said: “This is a landmark achievement for the UK, for our city and our University. I am delighted that work has started on the site and look forward to seeing Space Park Leicester flourish and come to life. This extraordinary project will open a wealth of invaluable opportunities in the key space data and technology sector. It is a real step into the future and will secure the University of Leicester’s spot as a world-leading centre for space research and development, building on our rich heritage as leaders in this field. I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to all involved.”
City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “I am delighted that the ground-breaking for Space Park Leicester is underway. It is preparation for a launchpad that will continue the transformation of Leicester, bringing hi-tech jobs to the city and connecting the best academic and business minds to stimulate innovation and growth. To get to this stage has taken immense vision and ambition. The partnership approach which has seen the University of Leicester working with the City Council, the LLEP, the National Space Centre, Midlands Engine and others is key to our success. It further paves the way for an exciting future that will reinforce Leicester's reputation as the UK’s Space City."
For the past 60 years, the University of Leicester has played a leading role in pioneering space research and missions from across the world. The first Leicester-built instrument in space was launched aboard a Skylark rocket; a simple pinhole camera designed to record X-rays from the Sun on photographic film in 1961. There has been at least one piece of Leicester-built equipment operating in space every year since 1967, including equipment aboard the famous NASA Swift mission in 2004.
The pioneering work undertaken at Space Park Leicester will be driven by partnerships. Space Park Leicester will develop and work with key future sectors that use space data or technology, such as international communications, resource management, environmental monitoring and disaster relief. The first phase is predominantly focussed on Earth Observation, creating a permanent base for the National Centre for Earth Observation. New teaching and laboratory facilities and business hosting will allow industry partners to collaborate and innovate with University researchers.
Kevin Harris is Chair of the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership Ltd. (LLEP), which allocated £8.175 million from its Local Growth Fund to support the development of Phase One at Space Park Leicester – part of the Loughborough and Leicester Science and Innovation Enterprise Zone. He said: “I’m very excited to see the launch of the next phase of Space Park Leicester. The project is on the cusp of bringing huge economic benefits to our region, as Leicester becomes the centre of the space industry and its applications in the Midlands, complementing the other space clusters nationally. The world-class facilities that will be on offer for start-ups and SMEs will make the site a hugely attractive destination for business, research and innovation.
“Space Park Leicester is as pioneering as the research it will host. The vision for new R&D facilities, pop-up labs and business hosting is the result of a true collaboration between academia, business and government – both local and national. The end goal at Space Park Leicester is to harness the space industry for the benefit of our region, and for the country as a whole. I’m very proud that the LLEP has been involved from the start in supporting this fantastic project.”
Planning permission for the second phase of the development was granted earlier in January, which will focus on research into Artificial Intelligence and robot-assisted satellite production, in addition to research into novel solutions for downstream space data challenges.
The ambition for phase three is for a Low Cost Access to Space (LoCAS) satellite manufacturing facility for the manufacture of mid-range satellites.
There will also be state-of-the-art facilities for space research, development and manufacturing as well as new first-class teaching and laboratory facilities and some business hosting – allowing industry partners to collaborate and innovate with university researchers.
Located on the former John Ellis site in Leicester within the Loughborough and Leicester Science and Innovation Enterprise Zone, it is in the heart of the country and can be accessed via all major road networks. Both the East Midlands Airport and Birmingham International are in easy reach. The location of the new flagship regional facility ensures it will be a critical component of the UK’s National Space infrastructure.