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Northumbria University secures £50m to transform UK space sector

30 November 2023

The UK Space Agency and Lockheed Martin have announced an investment to develop the North East Space Skills and Technology Centre, which promises to be a “game-changer” for the space industry.

Image: Northumbria University
Image: Northumbria University

Northumbria University, Newcastle has secured a total of £50 million in funding to create a world-leading space skills, research and technology centre in the North East of England.

Major funding awards that were confirmed today from the UK Space Agency and global aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, have been match-funded by the University itself to create the North East Space Skills and Technology Centre.

The centre, which will be known as NESST, will be a “game-changer” for the UK space economy. NESST is expected to directly support the creation of over 350 jobs and inject over £260 million into the North East economy over the next 30 years, playing a critical role in the government’s levelling-up agenda and immediately becoming a catalyst for the wider development of the UK space sector in the North East region.

Announced during the UK Space Conference, the UK Space Agency has awarded £10 million to Northumbria University to support the development of NESST. 

In addition to this, Lockheed Martin committed a further £15 million investment in NESST to work with Northumbria’s experts on collaborative research, technology development, in-demand skills provision and STEM engagement activities over 10 years. 

Through this strategic agreement, Lockheed Martin will become the first anchor tenant in NESST, creating unprecedented links for UK companies to access the global space market.

In recognition of the transformative impact of NESST on the North East region and beyond, Northumbria University confirmed it would match-fund the UK Space Agency and Lockheed Martin awards with a further £25 million, bringing the overall total investment in NESST to £50 million.

Professor Andy Long, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University, said: “NESST will be a game-changer for the whole of the North East, ensuring the region becomes a major hub for innovation in the global space economy.”
Located in the heart of Northumbria University's Newcastle city campus, NESST will be a new national space asset that brings together industry and academia to collaborate on internationally significant space research and technological developments.

NESST will put the UK at the forefront of research and innovation in areas such as optical satellite communications, space weather and space-based energy, and will lead the way in providing specialist education and training to ensure the UK space sector has the highly skilled workers it needs in the future.

Lockheed Martin and Northumbria University first joined forces in 2022 to support the development of skills, research and technology in the space sector. 

Lockheed Martin has previously invested £630,000 into collaborations with the University on a number of trailblazing projects, including working together to create machine learning algorithms to detect and record nanojets, as well as joining forces to accelerate the use of space-based solar power

Its award of £15 million will be split evenly across capital equipment to be used in the centre and research and development work.

Nik Smith, Regional Director for UK and Europe, Lockheed Martin, said: “NESST is one part of Lockheed Martin’s investment plans for our space business in the UK and will provide early prototyping and test facilities for new capabilities that could eventually be manufactured onshore. 

“It will also be a reskilling hub, providing the pipeline of talent we will need to deliver national and even global programmes. 

“With this investment, Lockheed Martin is thrilled to further our collaboration with Northumbria University and the UK Space Agency, and be a part of such significant initiatives for the region and the entire UK space sector.”

The UK Space Agency award to Northumbria was the largest of all the projects funded and the maximum amount that could be granted under the organisation’s new Space Clusters Infrastructure Fund (SCIF). This initiative aims to increase the capability, capacity, and connectivity of the UK’s space research and development infrastructure.

The University's Wynne Jones building, which overlooks Newcastle's central motorway, will be transformed into a home for NESST. The building, which is due to re-open in 2025, will feature world-class laboratory, testing, teaching, collaboration and office spaces, and the surrounding public spaces will be extensively regenerated to create an attractive new environment.

A major stimulus to the thriving local space cluster ecosystem, NESST will be home to some of the University’s key existing partnerships with local, national and international organisations and will also be open to businesses of all sizes working in the space sector.
Andrew Griffith MP, Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “Making Britain a space superpower means backing brilliant ideas up and down the land and harnessing the full potential of talent in our growing sector – from Dundee to Newcastle, Cornwall to Snowdonia. 

“By investing with the private sector in research and facilities across the UK, we are ensuring they become home to global industries that support the growth of our £17.5 billion space sector, create hundreds of new jobs and build dynamic businesses across the UK.” 

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, concluded: “Our space sector has been concentrated in London and the South East, but in recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of vibrant clusters across the whole of the country and significant investments from world-leading companies such as Lockheed Martin.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Northumbria University to further propel the UK to the forefront of world-class research and innovation with the North East Space Skills and Technology Centre (NESST), helping us lead the way in optical satellite communications, space weather and energy research, education, and training.”

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