Transcript: Space4U podcast, Alice Bunn

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

There, this is Rich Cooper with the Space Foundation. And this is the Space4U podcast conversations with the people who make today’s space happen. I’m sitting here with Dr. Alice Bunn, who is the director for international with the UK space agency or UK USA. She is the head of delegation for the, for the UK, with ISA, and is the vice chair of the ISA council.


Uh, needless to say, it’s a great honor to have her as part of our Space4U podcast, and it’s an even greater pleasure to have you as part of the Space Foundation board. I wanted to start off. Could you share with us a little bit about what the vision for UK essay? What it’s all about. Um, it’s an absolute pleasure to be here.


So the vision for the UK space agency, that’s an easy one for me to answer our vision is to lead the new space age. So we recognize that this sector is changing and it’s changing dramatically. We’re seeing so many exciting new innovations, particularly in. The smaller scales. So in small satellites and our vision is to lead that new space age.


And we’re really optimistic about that. So for instance, we know already that 40% of the world’s small satellites are designed, produced, or manufactured in the UK. Wow. Those are pretty impressive statistics. Hey, so you’re taking the lead in what I will call small set revolution. What are the goals that you have, you have the big vision you want to be the leader.


What are the goals that, that are telling you that you’re getting there? Absolutely. So the long-term goal is to capture 10% of the global market by 2030. And we recognize that there’ll be a big part of that global market will be coming from these new innovations, these new, small satellites, so innovation, how do we make that innovation happen?


What is the government role in doing that? So we are looking at innovation and our regulatory frameworks. So to give an example, we’ve just introduced a traffic light system, which makes it easier for some of these really, really highly innovative companies to come through and get some certainty about whether they can get a license from us, providing a user tried and tested launcher or tried and tested.


Uh, platform and launched to a low enough altitude that the mission is going to naturally degrade. After it’s proved the concept, then they’re going to get a license from the UK. We’re looking at innovation in our partnerships. We’re particularly proud to have a new international Punchh partnership program.


Working with developing countries. It’s 150 million pound program. We’re already partnering with 33 different countries, uh, tackling 10 different sustainable development goals. I could go on when you talk about all the partnerships, 33 countries that you just mentioned there. Yeah. Who’s your competition.


Here’s the competition. Well, you know, I think we’re, um, we’re really leading this, this age. I mean, we have this dedicated program, not many countries have a dedicated program working with developing countries, but I think there is recognition out there. There is recognition that, um, you know, working with some of the countries that are just coming through with space capabilities are then they are representing a new opportunity, but I’m pretty confident.


I think we’re leading that engagement in the moment. Others are catching up, but still ahead. What are you going to do differently? Probably upper space agencies. So again, it comes back to, I think, enabling frameworks. So enabling the sector to come through with those innovations. So typically what we, another first coming from the UK is innovative financing models.


So we have Sarah Finn is the first, um, venture capital fund. That is dedicated to financing satellite missions, and we’ve really encouraging. There’s more, you know, innovative, creative way of thinking about financing. London has been traditionally, you know, the finance capital of the world. So we’re absolutely leveraging from the back of that.


So when you. Having the capital to make these things happen. Talk about what you’re doing to create a regulatory environment that makes the UK and UK USA a great space partner. So we will be working and very closely with our international partners with, uh, with like-minded countries to make sure that we bring through those innovations in, in regulatory frameworks together.


In an internationally responsible way. Um, I’ve already talked about the traffic light system we’ll be looking at. We’re very focused at the moment and the regulatory frameworks that we need to enable launch from the UK. You asked earlier about what are the big milestones along the way launches one of those big milestones.


So we’re working very closely, particularly with us on making sure that we can get a responsible framework in place to enable launch. We’re also looking at in-orbit servicing. We’re also looking at, you know, ethics, innovation, basic frameworks. You know, we are looking at all these new exciting programs that are coming down the line and making sure that we’re ready, government is ready to support innovation coming from the sector.


You mentioned, government is ready. Is UK industry ready? Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. We don’t get to the point of having, you know, 40% of the world’s small satellites capability without, you know, when we’re still sleeping. So we’re doing a lot to foster innovation also by creating hubs. What do I mean by that? We’re creating real centers where we particularly get the academic and the industry community together.


So really good example of that is some of the stuff happening at Harwell, where we’ve got one of the ISA centers there. We’ve got browse space with a lot of manufacturing and test capability. We’ve got the satellite applications, catapult really seizing new opportunities for the downstream applications of data.


And we’ve got many, many businesses. I mean, a few years ago, there was just a handful of companies there. There’s now up to 80. So we are really building and we’re seeing a lot of inward investment into that hub because they recognize that this is the right environment to be innovative. So you’ve got governments ready.


Industry’s ready. One of the challenges that is often spoken about in the United States is the STEM or science technology, engineering and mathematics pipeline. Not having enough talent. Do you have a talent pipeline issue as well? We absolutely recognize that as an issue. And we’ve done a lot of work on that in the last few years.


So we were very lucky to have a UK astronauts. So we had Tim peak, we did a huge education campaign when Tim was flying, we touched directly 2 million school children. So by that, I mean, you know, they didn’t just. See that we had an astronaut in space and were interested. They were directly involved in activities in the classroom, uh, research activities that were relating to Tim’s mission that had a huge effect.


So we’re really planning to continue leveraging from the inspirational effective space for the STEM agenda. But we also recognize that actually you need to make those interventions all the way through children’s education. So whilst the activities we had going when Tim was firing were largely targeted around the kind of nine ten-year-old Mark.


Now we’re really shifting our focus onto graduates. So looking at putting internship programs in place so that we make sure not only are we using children to take up those STEM subjects in the first place, but we’re also facilitating their careers using that STEM education into the space sector. The UK has a tremendous history and exploration and innovation.


What do you think when you look at what you’re doing right now, if you have to write the first chapter of that history, what does that first chapter say? Oh my goodness. Yeah. Exploration. Whether it’s in our genes, right. It’s what we do. You know, we’re a, we’re a inquisitive race. So we were always going to push forwards and, and I’m really excited.


In fact, it’s a relatively recent thing that we joined human exploration. So we were all were always very committed through ISA, um, to robotic exploration, but it’s a relatively recent thing that we’re going into human exploration, but we are very excited to be joining with international partners. In pursuit of curiosity, right?


It’s fundamentally furthering that knowledge of mankind. Does that include wanting to be part of the, uh, back to the moon onto Mars? Yeah, we’re ready for that too, by the way. We’re totally ready for that. We really it’s been so exciting this week. So many conversations around exploration and, um, You know, one, one really sticks in my mind, uh, chatting over one of these breakfast events that we really recognize that there’s this tension between this tastic ambition, you know, sat foods back on the moon by 2024 and enabling international corporation in that lesson, you know, people have got to get ready.


They’ve got to get that funding in place. We’re ready. We’re ready. We’ve got industrial capability that can deliver already. Does Brexit change any of this? No, certainly not. Um, sending on it exploration and we continue to be very strong contributors into the ISA program. You know, we’re really looking forward to the ministerial at the end of this year and that we’ll be making our next subscriptions into these exciting programs that there’s very little impact.


You know, exploration has always been an international endeavor space programs have always been an international endeavor, you know, we share and the cost of the infrastructure we share in the operating environment. Yeah. And that’s, you know, that’s not gonna change. What does the world need to know about UK USA?


The world needs to know we’re growing the world needs. No, we’re really, really, sorry. We are absolutely committed to getting this end to end capability in place. So I’ve already talked about the fact that we’ve got this, this leadership position in small satellites. We’ve made some reason investments, uh, through Harwell, again, improve test facilities.


We’ve got solid funding programs. We are ready to reform our regulatory frameworks and we’re looking forward. And just a, just a short time to seeing launch. And I go from the UK. So you look at that piece, you’ve got an end to end capability to be able to really grasp these exciting new opportunities coming from the small satellite programs.


Where do you want to launch out of the UK? Uh, what, you know what, we’re not limiting it at the moment. We’re focusing a lot of our efforts in the North of Scotland. But we’ve always said, this is a commercially driven enterprise. So government’s role is to put the frameworks in place to enable that knowledge to happen.


But if the market’s there, there’s no reason why we can’t consider for instance, horizontal that launch from, you know, other parts of the UK at the moment, most of our effort is focused in Northern Scotland. The UK has such tremendous history with exploration, and I have to ask this question, but when you go to start launching spacecraft out, Of, uh, North of Scotland or wherever the UK, what do you hope?


One of those spacecraft and Nick is named. There’s been some, a name, but he didn’t want, I just was the naming ceremony of a spacecraft. Actually. Can I tell you about that? The other mission we were really excited about really important is XMR. So due to launch in 2020, we’ve been responsible for building the robot.


And the robot was just recently named Rosalind Franklin, uh, Y Rosalind Franklin. So Rosalind Franklin was a phenomenal scientist. He was really responsible for understanding the structure of DNA. So there’s really building blocks of life. Uh, so we named the over. Franklin because this waiver will indeed look for those building blocks of life on Mars.


So that was a super nice occasion. In fact, it was, it was quite, um, strangely emotional. In fact, Rosalyn’s family were actually in the audience as well. So it was so 15 that her work could be acknowledged in this really lovely way, many years after his death. So what we see in HMS. Stephen Hawking. Yeah, maybe, maybe we, I mean, we’ve just named a ship off the David FM bursa, I suppose that ship has sailed as it worked.


Um, literally quite literally, uh, Dr. Alice Bunn, it is a pleasure to speak with you. Uh, best of luck with the UK USA. This is Rich Cooper with the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. Again, you can see more episodes of our podcasts on all of our social media outlets, as well as And remember at the Space Foundation, we always have space for you.


Thank you.

Listen to the Podcast

Space4U Podcast: Alice Bunn, UK Space Agency International Director