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From the depths of the oceans to the depths of space

20 July 2019

Defence and Security

From the depths of the oceans to the depths of space

In 1961, a young president dared a nation to achieve something which many saw as impossible, within 9 years. With less than 20 minutes of space experience, the United States went on to achieve the greatest technical feat in human history. The mission control team who orchestrated the 6 lunar landings, and who saved the crew of Apollo 13, had an average age of 25. But what they did was simple.. they adopted the mantra of an earlier president, Theodore Roosevelt , who famously said “Dare Mighty Things”. This is the slogan adopted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs, and is a perfect and inspirational message for all.

Space versus maritime

The analogies between maritime and space are obvious to anyone who has worked in the space sector. One only has to listen to the words of Neil Armstrong, talking about his imminent mission to the Moon in 1969, and how he saw analogies with the voyages of Columbus, and other great seafaring explorers to see that. Many of the Apollo astronauts, several of whom are close friends, were naval aviators. Flying on and off aircraft carriers, in test aircraft, in some cases, claiming that this was more difficult than landing on the lunar surface.

Working on our space strategic initiative has been nothing short of a joy. Whilst it is still an area of aspiration for future growth in BMT, again, those analogies tend to scream out, when you look at what our 1500+ strong workforce has in terms of skillset, and how that translates perfectly over in to the space domain.

Safety Critical

Our software, helps manage the launch and range safety for defence assets across the entire MOD estate. Launch and range safety is a critical, yet often overlooked part of the space sector. Whilst many organisations just go for the high profile projects, such as building satellites or rockets, the estimated £40 billion worth of business forecast in the UK Space sector alone, will be largely driven by the applications of space, and all of the supporting infrastructure, and that’s something BMT are exceptional at.

Our WOMES expertise could easily transfer in to supporting the fuel and safety management of launch sites, our work in critical port infrastructure, applied to launch sites and their overall safety and design. Our naval architecture, given that we live on an island, is perfectly suited to solving one of the big problems with reusability in space. SpaceX have already proven with their pioneering work, that it’s possible to land huge rockets on floating autonomous platforms, and we have already been approached to investigate closing that circle, and adapting large ships as launch platforms (which solves some of the range safety over land issues too).

Our cyber security team, have critical domain knowledge that can easily be transferred to the space domain. With a plethora of small satellites about to be launched (estimates up to 12,000 new satellites in the coming decade, which, is a 400% increase on what’s in space already), securing these from nefarious activity, will be essential. A small CubeSat, measuring 10x10x10 cm weighing 1Kg may not sound like a threat, but if you add micro thrusters to it, which is happening, and take control of it over a supposedly secure communications link, you have a kinetic weapon capable of destroying the International Space Station. “Gravity” the movie may have been, well, just a work of fiction, but the Kessler scenario it depicts, where orbital debris wreaks havoc, is a very real theat. The analogies with recent high profile messages on ocean waste were clear to all in the space sector. “clean it up, or we face a catastrophe”

Collaboration and Trust

The beauty of working in the space sector, is that is fosters collaboration. We have worked with almost all of the major space prime companies over the years in the defence sector. They know us, they trust us for our intellectual and engineering rigour. What’s also great is that the smaller SME’s look to us as a great independent organisation, one again they can trust, our independence and EBT status assuring them that they’ll be working with an organisation of integrity. Universities from all over the UK have joined forces with us to investigate concepts which we’re proposing. Our domain expertise and management capability, sitting perfectly alongside theirs in areas as diverse as chemistry and materials science.

We have a wealth of prospects forming, we’re soon taking a small office at the Harwell Space Cluster campus , where over 80 space based companies are located. We’ve already presented at conferences, to the like of the European Space Agency, and have formed great collaborations for bids and proposals with major names in the space sector, who, even with their decades of experience, see us as offering something special and unique.

Unless we challenge ourselves every day, we will never venture forward. BMT have the talent, the skill, the brilliance to take on the challenges that space presents. Taking our expertise which, amongst many of the great achievements we have under our belts, helped design the world’s most advanced aircraft carrier, and use that to deliver something which may one day change the course of history. To quote Roosevelt in full..

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though chequered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat”


About author

Nick Howes is a Test Analyst in the Information Systems group. His role also encompasses Space SI Research and Development. He was a science writer for the European Space Agency and SKA Telescope projects, and has expertise in orbital dynamics, Imaging systems, and cometary/asteroid bodies. Formerly deputy director of the Kielder Observatory, Nick is a member of the IET and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He has written on space science topics for Physics Today, Astronomy, Sky and Telescope, BBC Sky at Night and many other publications, and been a public speaker at over 300 national and international conferences and events.



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