Since 2001 the European Space Agency (ESA) has supported the European Life and Physical Sciences in Space (ELIPS) programme. This programme allows academics and industry access to the unique conditions offered by space and space-like facilities, which include the International Space Station (ISS) together with terrestrial facilities (drop towers, parabolic flights etc). They are used to provide insights into the influence of the absence of gravity driven effects and into the impact of high radiation environments, extremes of temperatures and human endurance across a range of diverse science areas – from soft matter and plasma physics, through to biology and the neurosciences. Up until now, the UK government hasn’t allocated any funding to ELIPS, so our world-leading scientists were disadvantaged in taking leading roles in research projects.
At the end of September 2012, Qi3 was contracted by ESA to review the UK’s academic and industrial capability in areas relating to ELIPS in order to provide an independent analysis of the potential benefits of UK involvement in the programme. The analysis was used by the UK Space Agency to inform the UK delegation to the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level in late November. Qi3 reviewed the UK’s academic capabilities in 7 core science areas: Astrobiology, Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences, Biology, Fundamental Physics, Human Physiology, Materials Science and the Physics of Fluids & Combustion; mapping these against UK industry capability and the strategic interests of the UK Research Councils. By analysing the scientific research case, the business opportunities for supply to ELIPS, the knowledge transfer opportunities, and the potential for industrial use of the ELIPS facilities or the knowledge acquired through ELIPS, Qi3 was able to provide an integrated view of the value of the ELIPS programme for UK science and industry. The methodology was based on that used to provide an industrial rationale for UK participation in the Aurora programme of Mars exploration.
Following this work, David Willetts, the UK Science Minister, announced £12 million funding to support UK participation in the European Life and Physical Sciences in Space (ELIPS) programme over the coming 4 years – part of an overall package of £60 million per annum to boost the UK’s spending in space. For the first time, the UK is funding investigations involving human space exploration and our scientists are able to work in this exciting area of research.
This is the third time Qi3 has been asked to provide rapid input ahead of ESA Ministerial meetings.