Space – a new frontier


The Space Sector is a significant emerging market encompassing industry, academia and government. It is an enabler of communication, entertainment and drives innovation and academic research.

The UK Space Agency projects the global space related market to be worth £400bn by 2030 and has set an ambitious target for the UK to achieve 10 per cent of this market.

Space is a sector which inspires young people, scientists and engineers and this was certainly evident during UK Astronaut Tim Peake’s historic visit to Northern Ireland recently.

Tim captured the hearts and minds of students, academics and businesses alike during engagements organised by W5, the Northern Ireland Science Festival, Invest NI, Thales UK and Northern Ireland Space Office.


Thales UK and Thales Alenia Space used the opportunity to invite Major Tim Peak to officially open its new electric Space Propulsion Integration Centre manufacturing facility, the first of its kind in the UK. 

Caption: Pictured left to right: Magali Vaissiere, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, European Space Agency, First Minister Arlene Foster, Philip McBride, General Manager, Thales Belfast, Principia Mission Astronaut Tim Peake and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

The company has invested £6million in the facility which represents a major milestone in the development of Space design and manufacturing capability for Thales.


Invest NI has offered Thales a £500,000 R&D grant to research technologies to establish more efficient ways of producing parts for the Spacebus Neo Satellite, the first of its kind fitted with full electric propulsion.

Addressing guests at the opening event, Tim Peake said that it gave him pleasure to visit centres that were driving innovation and cutting edge technology. The astronauts’ visit was widely covered by local media. 

READ | ITV Report: Space 'important asset' as Peake opens propulsion centre

Invest Northern Ireland is working to help ensure Northern Ireland companies, academia and those with related interests in the Space Sector share in the growth opportunities. The UK Space Agency is supportive of our efforts to rapidly grow the existing space capabilities in Northern Ireland through collaboration, knowledge exchange, innovation and skills development.

The existing expertise  provides an excellent starting point.

In the video below Robert Hill from the Northern Ireland Space Office discusses the significance of the Northern Ireland Space Strategy (PDF).

“Northern Ireland has already recognised how space builds upon its strong technical heritage and is well positioned to capitalise upon the new opportunities across the wider UK and global economies that space can enable.”

Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth, UK Space Strategy

Key Facts about Northern Ireland Space

  • Armagh Planetarium was the first planetarium to show moving images by projected video onto a dome.
  • Northern Ireland developed the first vocational space science qualification for 14-16 year olds in Europe.
  • Andor cameras help astronomers find planets around distant stars.
  • Andor’s custom built CCD cameras power the search for “Super Earths”.
  • Precision farming techniques and agricultural solutions using space technology piloted in Northern Ireland.
  • World leading research capabilities from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast.
  • Ground Breaking Research in Earth Observation, Antenna and Front End Technologies at ECIT (Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology).
  • Queen’s University Belfast developed Flish – a low cost, low power antenna capable of picking up satellite signals automatically.
  • 13 NASA patents have been invented at the University of Ulster.
  • Over 65 joint publications between NASA and the University of Ulster.
  • Northern Ireland born Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered first radio pulsars.