Students’ out of this world idea wins funding in space competition

23 May 2019

Three University of Derby business students have won £5,000 in a competition to come up with ideas on how satellites can improve life on Earth, run by the UK Space Agency.

Patrick Motley, 19, Blaise Umbagodo, 21, and Alberto Tinta, 22, won the prize in the Agency’s SatelLife competition for young people, for their idea for a tool that would allow improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other unexploded bombs to be identified in warzones, and then use drones and precision satellite positioning to increase the safety of bomb disposal teams. 

The three business management students at the University of Derby will now go on to pitch their idea to a panel of industry experts at the Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire in June in the hope of gaining further support to turn it into reality. 

Patrick said: “My module leader at university introduced us to the competition and we thought it would be an interesting project to use as a practice assessment, we didn’t expect to win. A career in space isn’t something I’d thought of before but given our success in the competition it’s definitely something to look at.

“We were all shocked to win. We didn’t know if it was real at first but we’re obviously delighted. We met with the university to discuss the next steps and they are really pleased, it’s a good thing for the business school.”

The students’ work was overseen by Chinthaka Aluthgama-Baduge, Rob Moon and Vic Curtis, of the Business, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship teaching team at the University of Derby.

Chinthaka, who led the business creativity and innovation module in which the project was devised, said: “Being creative has become more important than ever before and we are proud of this great achievement by Pat, Blaise and Alberto. It is these skills that are essential in today’s workplace and this is a very good example of the applied, real-world learning experience that the University of Derby offers to develop students’ entrepreneurial capabilities.”

Space is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK and it is estimated an additional 30,000 new career opportunities could be created by 2030. Now in its third year, the SatelLife competition aims to encourage 11-22 year olds to think about how satellites impact our everyday lives and learn more about the careers available in the sector.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “These extraordinary ideas on how to use space technology for everyday problems are a testament to the inventiveness of our brilliant young people.

“We are backing the UK’s thriving space sector in our modern Industrial Strategy to make sure young people, like all those who took part in this competition, have opportunities to work in this exciting industry in the future.

“The UK is already a world-leader in satellite building and we are backing plans for the first spaceports which will see satellites launched into space from British soil for the first time.”

The judging panel was made up of experts from the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell and industry.

Emily Gravestock, Head of Applications at the UK Space Agency, said: “The quality of entries this year was very high. We were particularly pleased to see such a wide variety of satellite applications being used. These young people clearly recognised the diversity of areas that satellites impact on our day-to-day lives.

“We were impressed by Patrick, Blaise and Alberto’s inspiration and knowledge. It’s fantastic to see them working so well as a team as this is a valuable skill in life and I look forward to seeing how they develop their idea in the future.”

With major parts for one in four of the world’s telecommunications satellites already built in Britain, the government’s Industrial Strategy includes plans to work with the industry to grow the space sector and establish commercial space launch services from the UK for the first time.

There has been significant growth in the UK space sector in recent years which provides £14.8 billion in total income and employs nearly 42,000 people. As part of the ambition to grow the UK’s share of space activity to 10% of the global market by 2030 the Government is investing £50 million in a Spaceflight Programme to kick-start small satellite launch and sub-orbital spaceflight from UK spaceports. The UK is also investing £99 million in a National Satellite Test Facility at Harwell.

SatelLife winners Blaise Umbagodo, Alberto Tinta and Patrick Motley

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