Multi-million pound investment in UK space industry agreed in Leicester

Professor Nishan Canagarajah and Tara McGeehan

One of the world’s largest IT and business consulting firms has pledged £2.6 million worth of support to a major research project which is bringing together industry and academics to drive forward the evolution of the UK space sector.

CGI has committed to the funding through in-kind contributions to the University of Leicester’s Manufacturing, Engineering, Technology and Earth Observation Research Centre (METEOR) over the next five years.

Both organisations have bases at Space Park Leicester and signed an agreement to officially formalise the funding pledge at the world-leading research centre yesterday. The agreement builds on CGI’s extensive expertise in Earth Observation data management and the University’s decades of heritage in EO science.

President of CGI’s UK and Australia operations Tara McGeehan said: “METEOR is a space research and innovation facility that brings together more than one hundred researchers and industrial research and development personnel working on the primary research challenges to the evolution of the space sector into a new era.

“We’ve been proudly working with METEOR since its launch and are delighted to make this formal commitment to them today as part of our continued investment in the UK’s space sector.”

CGI’s commitment to METEOR will enable the facility to use the company’s cloud-based GeoData360 platform, which allows organisations to manage and distribute large volumes of Earth Observation and Geospatial data, develop and run industrial-scale pre-processing and post-processing pipelines, and visualise complex geospatial data-sets. Academics will be able to develop, share and run science algorithms efficiently, taking advantage of cloud-native scaling.

CGI’s contribution will also support METEOR through a mix of technical support, data and collaborative activities. In one recent exemplar project, CGI and the University of Leicester jointly developed a new wildfire burnt-area detection system based on machine learning.

Kevin Tansey, Professor of Remote Sensing at Space Park Leicester said: “There are strong synergies between the styles and values of our two organisations and we’re thrilled to enter into this agreement with CGI.

“We have already started to work with CGI’s powerful GeoData360 platform in projects funded by the European Space Agency and Research England (SPRINT), to deliver the outputs of novel algorithms to our stakeholders.

“Earth Observation data is fundamental to tackling many of today’s issues relating to climate change and contributing to sustainable environment futures. The challenge facing researchers is to manage complex processing on large volumes of Earth Observation and geospatial data in a secure environment.

“Looking forward, this platform offers our students, especially those on our MSc in Satellite Data Science, a way to think about how their ideas can be deployed on GeoData360 in a cloud-based system as a service concept.

“GeoData360 offers users the facility to interact with these services and provide critical feedback. Importantly, CGI can support the user engagement and explore commercial pathways.

“We’ll use GeoData360 across our teaching and research activities at the University of Leicester to build a pipeline of prototype services whilst also developing important skills: cloud processing, business development and stakeholder communications, in the student cohort.”

The signing event with Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester and Tara McGeehan, included a showcase of work that has been performed using GeoData360 and an overview of the Sustainability Exploration and Environmental Data Science (SEEDS) programme which is supported by METEOR and the University of Leicester.

SEEDS is backed by the United Nations and is accelerating efforts to address climate change and strengthen research for the environment and communities. 

The research and technologies being developed through SEEDS are spurring low-carbon solutions and innovations and are supporting the creation of new low-carbon business models.

METEOR Programme Manager, Dr Stephen Wright added: “Access to GeoData360, and working with the CGI team will enhance our ability to deliver new research and real world impact at an accelerated rate. It will also make available an important tool to our students for their projects, and can provide the opportunity for them to work with an important international company”.

METEOR received funding of £13.75M for a 5,000m2 research and innovation facility from Research England, through its capital infrastructure mechanism, UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) provided.