Silicon Valley vs Silicon UK?

When it comes to fostering tech start-ups, the United States wins hands down. When we think of the Microsofts, Googles and Apples of the world, they are synonymous with Silicon Valley. When it comes to the UK, which location makes you think ‘tech’?

From the space tech point of view, there are some centres of innovation particularly at Harwell. Stevenage, Guildford and Glasgow, are amongst other various other locations in the UK where space tech companies are located. However, the UK does not have a ‘Silicon Valley’. There is no central location from which space, and other technology companies, can set up that will automatically attract investment, because the investors know where to go.

That’s not to say that investment is not being made in the UK space industry. In July 2017 it was announced that the government will plough £99 million into the Harwell Science Campus to expand its facility and develop a National Satellite Testing Facility. Could Harwell become the Space Tech Centre of the UK? A further £4 million will go to develop a new rocket construction and testing facility – Westcott in Buckinghamshire. Under David Cameron’s government, Tech City was established in London, which aims to accelerate the growth of digital businesses across the UK. However, whether this will take off, remains to be seen – and would established companies be prepared to re-locate to London where real estate is sky high and at a premium?

This is an important question. Does there have to be a centralised hub where tech ‘lives’?   Let’s take a look at Europe. Luxembourg is blazing a trail in terms of its development of the space resources industry. It might seem bizarre that this tiny country has put itself at the very centre of the asteroid mining business. Although this is a nascent industry, if the concept of asteroid mining becomes a reality, the truth is that Luxembourg is onto a very lucrative path.

The country already boasts the highest GDP per capita, and is very forward thinking in terms of the fact that it is careful to diversify its industries. The focus on asteroid mining is true evidence of this. In early 2016, the government of Luxembourg announced that it was basically fast-tracking the development of the asteroid mining business by developing a regulatory framework and financial incentives, co-investment in R&D and eventual capital investment for companies that would seek to base themselves within its borders. This would encourage the re-direction of some space companies from Silicon Valley to Luxembourg so that increasing amounts of R&D activity would take place there. In November, Luxembourg passed a law that any private companies based in the country, would be able to keep any resources that they obtained from space, making the prospect of basing themselves there even more attractive.

It’s early days for Luxembourg, but the government has truly thrown itself into the whole space resource thing. The U.S. government did the same for Silicon Valley – and perhaps this is what is required in the UK.

Whether it is a matter of centralising the tech companies and talent in the UK or creating an environment where innovation is consistently encouraged and attractive to investors, the UK government must really get behind the UK as a leader in technology as the U.S. and Luxembourg governments have done. If London (or another area of the UK) can be identified and promoted as an incubator for start-up companies, where entrepreneurs can really be given a fighting chance of making their dreams a reality, perhaps one day it could rival Silicon Valley. They say ‘build it and they will come’. There is certainly a huge amount of talent out there, but the right environment to grow is what is really needed.

Looking for a job in the space sector?

Where did all the Propulsion Engineers go?

This is an extremely exciting time to be part of the space and satellite industry. The NewSpace movement and the injection of entrepreneurship and privately financed missions are literally shaking things up. There’s so much going on; from reusable rockets, interplanetary missions, asteroid prospecting and a small satellite renaissance is underway. These initiatives are all slated for the near to medium term. It’s an amazing time to be involved in space. For new and existing projects, they all have one thing in common. Any launch vehicle or spacecraft going into space will need propulsion. The trouble is, that the people who specialise in this most important aspect of spacecraft engineering, are few and far between.

Due to the nature of the job, being a Propulsion Engineer or a Space Engineer in another field is not really a straightforward thing. Location of space companies tend to be centred in certain areas, both in the UK and abroad, and this leaves Engineers in a difficult position. Do you commute? Do you live out of a suitcase during the week and go home at weekends? Do you re-locate and uproot the family unit? So, it’s very understandable that, when a permanent Propulsion Engineer job comes along, it is snapped up quickly, safe in the knowledge that you have a long-term future with a company and making the effort to move the children to a new area , new school and spouse to a new job, was all worth it. Once settled in a permanent job, there is also the important matter of job security – and many prefer this to a more mobile mentality.

The other scenario tends to take you to a high paid contract job, which may be abroad. Though shorter term, the extra money makes up for the inconvenience of a short-term move for the family, if that is what is agreed.

With the developments being brought in by NewSpace, there is set to be a great deal of demand from aerospace companies for Propulsion Engineers to work on a range of projects. Companies will be looking for candidates that display specific skills and talents, but we are facing a shortage of these vital people.

Nebula Space takes a different approach to recruitment. As Engineers and space industry experienced ourselves, we have been in your position and we know the kind of difficult decisions that have to be made when looking for a new role. We understand that you might have a family and other commitments and that you want to find a contract or permanent position. That is why our primary aim is to get to know you and to build trust – not just between us, but between yourself and the companies that we find talent for. If you are a one of those rare Propulsion Engineers that are looking for a new challenge, get in touch with Nebula Space. We will help you at every step of the process and match you with your ideal role.

It’s a Man’s World……Is it?


It’s a Man’s World……Is it?

The aerospace industry has long been seen as the preserve of men and, let’s be honest, when we think of engineering, the majority of us will assume that it is men behind the amazing technology that is being produced. But this assumption is wrong, and for some years now women in aerospace industry jobs have been on the increase – and this is great news. The problem is that it is nowhere near enough progress.

We are fairly used to seeing females in positions such as marketing for space and satellite companies. This is seen as a much more ‘female role’, if there is such a thing. However, we now have women filling top positions in the industry. Look at Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX. She is an integral part of the most-watched space company in the world. There are many others such as Kay Sears, VP of Strategy and Business Development for Space Systems Business area at Lockheed Martin, also Mary Cotton, CEO of VT iDirect.

Women are making their mark in this exciting and complex industry, although this is a very slow process. The statistics speak for themselves. Let’s look at the UK market alone. According to the Women’s Engineering Society, just 9 percent of the engineering workforce is female. The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10 percent, whilst Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30 percent. The proportion of young women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012. Staggeringly, nearly 100,000 female STEM graduates were unemployed or economically inactive, so enabling women to reach their full potential in work could add as much as $28 trillion to annual GDP in 2025.

It makes stark reading doesn’t it?

As specialists in space industry recruitment, Nebula is extremely focused on redressing this balance. We work extremely hard for all our clients to make sure we find the job that is the right fit for them. This makes for a much happier and more fulfilled workforce! We recognise that the role of women in space is extremely important. There are a huge number of highly experienced female engineers who are qualified in a vast range of areas: robotics, satellite communications, remote sensing, human space flight and many other aspects. We believe that industry recruitment must be more passionate about broadening opportunities for women in space and to increase their visibility across the industry. Yes, encouraging young women into STEM and engineering courses is vital but once the qualifications are gained, the recruitment industry must be dedicated to the role of women in space by offering the best opportunities possible.

Whether you are a female or a male engineer struggling to find the right career move, get in touch. We are here to listen, to help and to help you to land your dream job.



European citizens have their say on space

The first ever Citizen’s Debate on Space for Europe is slated to be held on 10 September and it is an unprecedented event that highlights one very important thing – that space is for everyone. The point we should probably be debating is why it has taken so long.

At the event, the opportunity to learn, debate and participate will be offered to around 2000 citizens. In this very positive move, the ESA Member States will ask their people what their priorities are on all aspects of current and future space programmes, and will gain a different perspective on what really matters to the everyday person in space. The whole event will take place simultaneously across all of the 22 ESA Member States, with around 100 people per state at various locations. Those selected will have been chosen according to socio-demographic criteria, giving a good cross section of society a say.

Space, for some, is not a priority and there is the belief that vast amounts of money are wasted on space projects that will not benefit people in their everyday lives. It is initiatives such as this that can help to bring these views out into the open and to debate them. For many of those that think that space doesn’t matter, it is also a chance to point out that space affects their daily lives far, far more than they think – and will do so even more in the future.

Enabling the laypeople to have their say is critical and I for one applaud ESA for making this debate on space possible. People do not want to feel alienated from what is going on in their country’s space agencies and yet many feel utterly detached when they should be engaged. Space agencies across the world should be doing the same thing and encouraging their citizens to look at the positives – and negatives – of their space programmes, and to air their views on how space programmes should be shaped going forward. This is healthy dialogue, and it should be encouraged. It is this kind of talking that will determine where we go in space in the future.

ESA Director General Jan Woerner said: “Spaceflight, space science, exploration, Earth observation, telecommunication, satellite navigation, space technology and innovation can all help respond to societal challenges and be a source of inspiration to future generations. European citizens can help us better assess our priorities”.

Never a truer word was spoken.

Join the debate:

UK National Propulsion Test Facility

Hot on the heels of UK Moog-UK’s success on the Juno project with their Leros 1b engine, an announcement has been made by the UK Space Agency that promises an investment of £4.12 million in a National Propulsion Test Facility.

This is fantastic news for the UK space industry that has been getting some extremely positive press over recent weeks. The facility is set to be located at Westcott in Buckinghamshire and it will open the door for UK companies and academia to test and develop space propulsion engines. It will be built on existing facilities and a strong heritage in rocketry research. The new facility will result in a new vacuum facility at the site, an upgrade to an existing industry owned test chamber and open the facilities for the community to use.

It is this kind of rejuvenation and improvement that we need to see more of in the UK space sector. Encouraging investment will help to preserve and improve upon the UK’s standing as an important space player and as a key contributor to international missions. Coupled with this investment, Buckingham Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) are investing their own funds into an Innovation/Incubation Centre and a skills training hub that will support the space sector and encourage local talent and young people to pursue their ambitions.

Also announced last week was UK government’s feasibility study into a commercial spaceport. Five industrial teams that all have an interest in a potential UK spaceport have been awarded contracts to explore idea and whether it could be brought to fruition. The contracts have a value of £1.5 million and the big names involved include: Airbus Safran Launchers, Deimos Space UK, Lockheed Martin, Orbital Access associated with BAE Systems and Reaction Engines Ltd and Virgin Galactic. The results of the study should be in by November and this proposal has the potential to bring the UK to the forefront of the small satellite launch market. However, there are a plethora of regulatory hurdles, not to mention ITAR, to be cleared before any progress could theoretically be made.

However, putting all this aside, the UK is heavily engaged in space and there is undeniable potential for growth. It’s encouraging to hear that the government is backing UK space industry expansion and we look forward to seeing where this investment will lead to in the future. This is an important time in the sector’s development, and it is crucial that we are setting our stall out and underlining our potential to the rest of the world.

UK Space: Challenges Ahead

NASA is celebrating an engineering feat as the Juno probe finally arrived in Jupiter’s orbit to begin its mission that aims to find out more about the mysterious planet and how it was formed. It wasn’t just a triumph for NASA, though. Moog, based in Westcott, Buckinghamshire, UK, played an absolutely critical part in the programme. If it wasn’t for their Leros 1b engine, Juno would not have been able to slow itself down in order to enter Jupiter’s orbit.

It’s yet another demonstration of how the UK is excelling in space. The UK space industry is on a growth trajectory and is truly making its mark on the global space stage. It is a vibrant and fascinating sector and has massive potential. However, making the most of grass roots talent and of the first class expertise and facilities that the UK offers will require more funding dedicated to space. A report released in November 2015 by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, found that the UK space industry could be worth £40 billion but ‘work is needed to boost skills and relax regulation’.

Then, Brexit happened.

The outcome of the vote came as a huge surprise to the nation and now questions are hanging over the UK space sector and the impact that this result will have on the UK’s standing within the global space industry. How will the UK’s changing relationship with the EU affect current and future space programmes?

The UK Space Agency came out post-Brexit and explained that focus needed to be centred on continued investment in conjunction with the private sector. This is going to be key if the UK is set to maintain its growth trajectory. This investment would help to create a ‘level playing field in terms of competitiveness with other nations.’

The UK’s relationship with ESA should remain unaffected. There are currently three Member States that are non-EU members (Norway, Switzerland and Canada). So, fingers crossed, the excellent work with ESA should continue.

The Horizons 2020 initiative has been hugely instrumental in enabling tech start-ups in the UK space arena and supports research and innovation, all funded by the EU. The UK Space Agency has asked the government to seek bilateral agreements on the programmes as they are vital in enabling the future of UK space in a plethora of areas.

The UK has a huge amount to shout about in terms of space talent and capability. However, bringing this talent through and ensuring that the government makes space a priority given all the other challenges it faces, will underpin the future.

Like the UK space industry, Nebula Space is optimistic that a positive outcome can be found that enables space talent from outside the UK to continue to come and work in the country and for UK space engineers to retain the freedom and opportunity to work in Europe. The UK and Europe need to retain working in partnership, to make this happen.

Development of quality trade agreements with Europe and the rest of the world will help move UK space forward successfully. The UK has come a long way. Now we need to secure its future.

Space Engineers – the next generation

The highlight in the Nebula office for 2015 was most certainly Major Tim Peake finally blasting off to the International Space Station.  What a Christmas present indeed. Here in the UK, the nation was gripped by the live broadcast with a level of interest in space that was only equaled by the first manned shuttle launch, Columbia on 12th April 1981.

Many of the UK schools had set up screens so that the pupils could witness Tim’s launch live in the classroom or even on large screens in the main halls. The build up to this big space event has been a huge talking point in lessons, with plenty of prototype spacecraft in all stages of development constructed by the next generation of budding young engineers.

Of course the release of the first Star Wars movie (Episode 4, A New Hope) in 1977 also really brought space to life for many adults and children around the world and once again now episode 7 is here at last – a must see for any space fan just to see the Millennium Falcon skim across the sea prior to launching into the dark depths of space.

Following the successful vertical landing of the Space X Falcon 9 first stage booster in December, which part shares the same name as that very famous Star Wars freighter, the ablity for a spacecraft to fly in these extreme conditions is moving closer every day. Let us see what the future holds for 2016.

Europe in Space

2014 was the 50th anniversary of Europe’s entry into the ‘space race’. Today, over 35,000 people are employed directly by the space industry across Europe.

Europe’s participation in the market is spearheaded by ESA. In 1964 two organisations were established:

  • The European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO)
  • The European Space Research Organisation (ESRO)

Just over ten years later, these two organisations were replaced by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the vehicle to drive innovation and increased European cooperation.

ESA has played an important part in establishing independent European access to space itself and to the technological and commercial opportunities it offers. The forecast for huge growth in European space activity will drive forward from this foundation and maintain Europe’s status at the forefront of space research and operation.

ESA has an annual budget of some £5.5 billion. This Europe-wide governmental funding stimulates both government and commercial markets, like the growth in satellite deployment for example, where all sectors have an interest.

The EU market acts as a model for the future of space industry programme staffing: assembly of the right blend of knowledge and experience with teams comprising multinational participants.

The space industry is research-led, requiring the brightest people from an array of specialist domains. The expanding market is likely to lead to skills shortages, at least in the short term, as the supply of qualified people expands to meet demand.

Line and HR managers will need to plan effectively if they are to attract and retain the permanent and temporary workers required for success and to maintain competitive advantage.

Worldwide growth

The space industry is truly global: many projects are multinational in the planning development, launch and operation and new countries are continuously entering the market.

The space market is big. The largest player in the market is the USA: NASA employs 18,000 people directly and US industry supports a further 350,000 throughout the supply chain.  This equates to annual revenues of over $60 billion.

The space industry is evolving. December 2013 saw Bolivia become the latest member of the space family as it launched its first communications satellite. India, China and others are increasing their focus on space.

Governments across the globe are investing growing amounts in satellites and other space-based technologies. In addition to facilitating governmental requirements, this investment is designed to boost local high-tech industries to stimulate industrial performance and international competitiveness.

Commercial investment in space technologies – particularly satellites – is growing as the world becomes increasingly technology driven.

The expanding and increasingly global nature of the space industry provides increased opportunity for employees to seek career development via the most interesting and challenging programmes, wherever they are.

This provides both benefits and challenges for organisations looking to recruit. On the plus side, the potential of taking on people with wider and more up-to-the minute experience is a desirable one.  On the downside this means a more mobile employee base and increasing difficulties in attracting and retaining the talent needed.

Recruitment and HR policies will evolve to manage this evolving situation, and keeping a close eye on the talent market will form an important element of programme and organisation planning.

The rise of UK space engineering

The UK is the second largest player in space engineering, after the USA. A leader in a range of technologies, including communications/weather satellites, planet vehicles and nuclear space batteries, the sector currently employs over 30,000 people directly and delivers annual revenues in excess of £10 billion for the UK economy.

The UK Government recognises both the importance of a large and rapidly growing market sector and the strong position that the UK holds within it.

The Government announced in 2012 that, through the UK Space Agency, it plans to invest £1.2 billion in some of Europe’s largest and most lucrative space projects. These investments will strengthen the UK’s role across a range of disciplines and, it is estimated, will contribute some £1 billion of orders per year for UK businesses.

On 18 March 2013, the UK Government announced it will provide a further £2 billion of funding to the aviation industry over a seven year period.  It is forecast that this investment will contribute to the creation of an additional 115,000 jobs.

A characteristic of the space and aviation sectors is their large-scale need for a broad range of high-value skills and disciplines, including engineering, science, project management, production, service, IT, training and finance. The aircraft sector will be competing for many of the same candidates as the space sector.

Nebula Space sees a changing employment market over the next 10 years as the market adapts to significant, ongoing growth, new market entrants and a more mobile workforce.