September Newsletter

21 September 2023

News from the cluster

Welcome to the first edition of our Space West Newsletter. We're excited to embark on this journey of sharing space-related news, updates, and insights with you. In each newsletter, we'll bring you the latest discoveries, innovations, and stories from the world of space in the South West.

About Space West

Space West is a regional consortium of academic and industry partners designed to accelerate growth and innovation in the space sector within the region and nationally. The Space West programme hosted by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with West of England Combined Authority, the Centre for Modelling and Simulation, the University of Bath, the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.

Space West is delighted to be welcoming RHEATECH to Bath

RHEATECH’s office in the UK has recently relocated from the Harwell Space Cluster in Didcot, Oxfordshire, to Newark Works, the newly renovated buildings at Foundry Lane in Bath.

RHEA opened its first UK office in Harwell in 2013 to be part of its growing space cluster alongside the European Space Agency, UK Space Agency, Satellite Applications Catapult and many other space organisations. As RHEA has grown, the centre of gravity for our customers and suppliers has migrated to the South West. For this reason, RHEA decided to relocate to Bath, a beautiful, historic city that offers good transport connections, a wealth of established aerospace and cyber expertise, and excellent universities with interests in space and security. Bath also sits nicely within the growing South West Space Cluster.

In the UK, RHEA’s experts work with institutional, commercial and academic clients and partners on a diverse range of space projects, including mission planning and operations, positioning, navigation and timing missions, space weather, space debris removal, Earth observation and satellite applications. We were one of the few companies with a satellite onboard the first space flight from UK soil, in January 2023, as Virgin Orbit launched from Spaceport Cornwall.

RHEATECH Ltd is part of RHEA Group, a privately owned space and cybersecurity company which has more than 30 years’ heritage of working in the space sector and 12 years in cybersecurity. RHEA has over 830 staff working across our 10 offices and at client sites across Europe and Canada.

Find out more about RHEA Group here.

UK Space Agency Funding for Climate and Environmental for Map Impact and Stellarsat

Two of our regional businesses, Map Impact and Stellarsat have recently been awarded funding from UK Space Agency that will use Earth observation tools, satellite tracking and data on population demographics, supported by Artificial Intelligence (AI), to produce forecasts and models that can be used by sectors ranging from agriculture and energy, to finance and insurance.

The funded projects will cover as follows:

Map Impact Ltd, Bristol

Catchment-wide view for freshwater management, using multiple data sources to provide an up-to-date picture of climate change and pollution impacts to help communities to forecast future events and outbreaks and, mitigate risks that threaten habitat biodiversity and human health.

Stellarsat Ltd, Bristol

Framework using various data and AI tools to proactively address the exposure of increasing numbers of critical energy infrastructure assets (such as electric vehicle charging stations and solar home systems) to physical risks induced by climate change.

Read full press release here

European Space Agency Bid Writing Workshop 1st September

A huge thanks to the European Space Agency (ESA) and UK Space Agency team who delivered an workshop that did a fantastic job of taking us through the ‘dos and don’ts’ of writing a proposal for ESA.  The workshop was well received and it was great to see so many of our regional businesses in attendance.  A big thank you also goes to our Space West Partner, the University of West of England for hosting the event. 

Following the success of this workshop, feedback from attendees suggested that they would be keen to have an ESA 101- all you need to know about ESA workshop, to help give visibility to the relevant programmes that could be exploited by our space community.  We are hoping to secure a session for this in October, so watch this space! 

You can register your interest by emailing: [email protected]

Spotlight on iCOMAT

At Space West we are keen to shine a light on the thriving space SME community that drives our regional eco-system, so each of our newsletters will have a ‘Spotlight on’ where we will do just that.  If you would like your business to feature in this section, please email Rebecca Huffee, Space West Cluster Manager, [email protected]

iCOMAT is based right in the heart of Bristol and was founded in 2019, and we’re absolutely delighted and honoured to be the first ‘Spotlight’ to be featured in the Space West newsletter.

With its early concept forged at the Bristol Composites Institute and University of Bristol, iCOMAT is now a well-established business with a growing team and order book! We currently have a site in Bristol and a satellite office in Athens, with big growth plans in terms of team and production over the coming year to service our global customer base.

iCOMAT has developed a patented manufacturing process for advanced carbon fibre composites. iCOMAT’s innovative technology, Rapid Tow Shearing (RTS), can place carbon fibre tapes along curved paths without generating defects. Its defect-free fibre steering capability realises ultra lightweight composite structures beyond the limit of the conventional straight fibre designs & complex geometry which isn’t possible using current automated manufacturing technologies.

Composite materials are anisotropic, they are only strong in the direction of their fibres. iCOMAT’s specialist technology steers the path of fibres, enabling optimisation of mechanical properties at any point of the structure & ultimately improve all aspects of structural performance. This produces significantly lighter, more efficient components and uses material in the most efficient way, thus reducing the amount of raw materials used & overall production costs. The technology is protected by 4 patents (e.g., GB2492594A, W02022058703A1) and iCOMAT has full ownership of all RTS IP (including the original patent by BCI; iCOMAT is a spin-out from BCI).

iCOMAT has already secured multiple blue-chip customers across aerospace and automotive (includingBAE, Joby-Aviation, Leonardo, Williams F1, JLR) and crucially is in the process of executing its 2nd GSTP contract (GSTP Phase1) with ESA/UKSA to enable production readiness for space structures.

Over the coming year iCOMAT intends to extend its engagement with the Space sector and become a key part of the UK’s supply chain. We’re really excited to be a member of the Space West network, and given the level of engagement already, it’s clear there’s so much more we can achieve as a cluster. We look forward to seeing you all at the next gathering.

Research in Focus

Dr Philippe Blondel is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath, where he co-founded the Centre for Space, Atmospheric and Ocean Science. His space research focuses on imaging for planetary and asteroid studies, situational awareness and space debris, and one of his recent projects is highlighted here.

Philippe did his PhD on radar imaging of Venus and used his remote sensing expertise to map and discover the seabed in all oceans except the Antarctic. He kept an interest in space studies, for example as lead author of the book “Solar Systems Update” (Springer, 2006) and contributor to the ASIME 2016 White Paper “In-Space Utilisation of Asteroids”. He thought of using multi-aspect sensors to detect space debris, replacing the sonars he uses under the ocean with radars in orbit. First published in 2019, this project aims to address the expanding problem of space debris, better identifying the types of debris and how dangerous they could be. A dynamic satellite configuration hosting radars enables multi-aspect imaging of targets through bespoke, distributed signal processing (beam-steering, synthesis of virtual apertures and dynamic beamforming to create virtual pencil beams to interrogate volumes of interest).

Building on small-scale lab experiments, supplemented with analyses of US and European orbital debris database, his team has identified the orbits most at risk from collision. In collaboration with Canadian industry, he has constrained the detection capabilities of different satellite configurations (ranges, fields of view, reaction times) and the use of radars-of-opportunity, either from radars operating outside the dynamic constellation or from planet-side. Focused on Near-Earth application, this method can be adapted to other areas (e.g. space mining and missions to the Moon or other planetary bodies). This approach aims to make future missions more affordable, de-risking space activities, protecting assets and preparing for future regulations. Philippe used this expertise to participate to UK Parliament POSTnote 654 “Defence of Space-based Assets” (2021).

If you would like to find out more about Philippe’s research, please email [email protected].

Events and Opportunities

In our Event and Opportunities section, you'll find a selection of upcoming space-related events, conferences, workshops and bid opportunities. We believe in fostering a community passionate about space, and this section aims to keep you informed about valuable networking and learning opportunities that can help you stay at the forefront of space science and technology. Whether you're an academic, an SME, or a larger space business, there's something for everyone in this space of possibilities.

  • Read more about Space West Networking Event ‘Bringing Space Down to Earth’ 5th October 6-8pm

    Space West Networking Event ‘Bringing Space Down to Earth’ 5th October 6-8pm

    We couldn’t let World Space Week go unmarked so we will be hosting a networking session focused on how the benefits of space can be maximised on earth. Adoption of space technologies, data and services by 'non-space' businesses is accelerating to support growth in multiple sectors including agriculture, finance, property development, insurance and energy.  This networking event aims to bring together researchers and space businesses using space technologies for terrestrial applications with businesses with the potential to benefit from these technologies.  Places are limited so, make sure you secure you spot by signing up early.

  • Read more about UK Space Conference 21st-23rd November

    UK Space Conference 21st-23rd November

    The UK Space Conference is a significant biennial event for the UK Space sector. The event unites the UK and international space communities, such as government, industry, and academia.

    The conference provides a platform for the space sector to exchange ideas, plans, and partnerships that encourage development and success in the emerging space age.  Space West will be attending and looking forward to seeing you there.

  • Read more about Gravity Challenge 06

    Gravity Challenge 06

    Deloitte has recently announced their next GRAVITY Challenge that opens on 20th September. By bringing together end-users from public and private organisations, data & technology enablers and innovators, the GRAVITY Challenge harnesses space to solves some of the most pressing problems we’re facing on earth today. From improving response times to natural disasters to minimising vessel strikes on marine life, the applications of space technology are limitless.

    Find out more about this fully funded business support for 6 months.

  • Read more about UK Space Agency’s Enabling Technologies Programme- Call four

    UK Space Agency’s Enabling Technologies Programme- Call four

    Proposals are sought for projects in areas including innovation; innovative technology proof of concept that could result in a significant technological step-change; new technology developments; establishing new academic/industrial research collaborations and feasibility studies targeting emerging disruptive technologies. This call is an open call with no specific technology theme.

  • Read more about UK Space Agency Space For All

    UK Space Agency Space For All

    This funding aims to inspire young people to pursue STEM education and attract talent to the UK space sector. Find our more about this fund including details on how to apply.      



Stay connected with the latest updates from Space West!

Subscribe to our newsletter now and receive exciting news and space-related insights directly in your inbox. Join our space community by emailing us at: [email protected]

Keep up to date

Sign up to receive the latest updates, news and events from
the National Composites Centre