Local companies urged to explore the exciting business opportunities in space industry

Invest Northern Ireland has highlighted the potential for local companies to profit from the proposed construction of the world’s largest ground based optical telescope in Chile.

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) is a €1083 million, 11 year construction project planned to be designed and manufactured in Europe and constructed in the north of Chile for the European Southern Observatory, an intergovernmental organisation for astronomical research.

Over 20 local companies gathered at the Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering Centre (NIACE) in Belfast to learn more about upcoming contract opportunities and how they can get involved.

The event was co-hosted by Invest NI, the Science and Technologies Facilities Council, ADS NI, NIACE and the Northern Ireland Space Office. Key speakers outlined the purpose of the telescope and the range of engineering, construction and manufacturing opportunities that will become available over the coming years.

Kevin McCann, Invest NI’s Director of Advanced Engineering and Construction, said: “The UK space industry is thriving and we want to ensure that Northern Ireland companies are aware and have the chance to bid for work stemming from this highly innovative project.

“The purpose of this event was to highlight the potential for our manufacturing, construction and engineering firms to join forces to gain access to the lucrative packages of work that will be tendered next year. The construction of this telescope is considered as one of the highest priorities in ground-based astronomy and we must ensure Northern Ireland businesses are in a position to benefit from this project.”

The E-ELT will enable astronomers to probe and understand a whole range of phenomena, from earth-like planets around nearby stars, to the origin and development of the most distant galaxies at the edge of our observable universe.

Bryan Little from the Science and Technology Facilities Council added: “The project is in the final stages of preparation and is expected to lead to the release of significant packages of work for engineering, construction and manufacturing firms, including the main structure, the dome and optics-related support and control mechanisms. Northern Ireland has already developed a reputation for excellence in the aerospace sector. We must build on this and ensure businesses, large and small, are able to capitalise on opportunities arising from this and future projects in the sector.”

Robert Hill from the Northern Ireland Space Office added: “The space sector in the UK generates a turnover of over £9billion with the UK Government setting ambitious targets for economic growth for the future. It is essential that Northern Ireland engages with the sector now as it develops over the coming years. I am delighted that this workshop will open the door for our innovative groups in research and industry to engage with this extremely challenging and innovative project.”

Dr Scott King, NIACE Centre Manager, said: "NIACE is delighted to continue supporting our local industry and provide it with opportunities to find out about new projects such as the E-ELT. This exciting project offers companies from Northern Ireland the chance to demonstrate their innovative skills and capabilities as well as providing them the potential to venture into new markets and partnerships. In addition, this project can stimulate significant interaction between industrial and academic staff resulting in the rapid transfer of knowledge and skills and advancement of innovative technologies across a range of industries. I have no doubt that Northern Ireland can make a valuable contribution to this project as well as contributing to the future development of the global space sector."