Shetland space day – inspiring a community

Following the first ever Shetland Space 101 Day on Saturday 6 November, Dr Brendan Hall, Shetland UHI’s Business Development and Projects Officer, shares insights on the motivations behind the event, the day itself and how Space 101 fits into wider plans in Shetland.

The buzz around space has been building in Shetland since plans were announced for a vertical-launch spaceport in Unst, Shetland’s (and, therefore, the UK’s) most northerly isle in 2018. The spaceport is being developed on the site of a former RAF radar station and will provide launch sites and associated services alongside ground stations for relaying data from satellites.

Shetland’s space skills pipeline

Shetland UHI is one of the key partners in Shetland’s space education, employment and skills pipeline.

The pipeline has four main aims:

  1. Creating an authentic, positive buzz for space in our school communities by providing genuine opportunities and inspiring young people in the space industry sphere.
  2. Developing a sustainable careers awareness pipeline for children through and beyond school.
  3. Enabling new partnerships between providers and employers within and outwith Shetland, including building a local apprenticeship pipeline and developing a local workforce for children and young people beyond school.
  4. Providing new networks and materials for teachers and other education staff in Shetland and professional development opportunities in this field.

Through Shetland’s space education, employment and skills pipeline children and young people in Shetland have been able to attend virtual ‘space camps’ and participate in space-themed competitions, all of which are helping to inspire the next generation of budding astronauts, data analysts and aeronautical engineers.  

As the new college for Shetland, we at Shetland UHI are keen to play our part in inspiring the whole community to take an interest in space and the exciting opportunities offered by having a spaceport on our doorstep. With Shetland Space 101 Day we wanted to offer an opportunity for people across Shetland and beyond to learn more about space and what it means for people in Shetland.

Space 101 event

As the name suggests, Space 101 was aimed at a general audience of all ages. Working to the maxim that ‘space is for everyone’, we collaborated closely with colleagues at Saxavord to design a programme which would have a broad appeal to anyone interested in space and the space sector, while also exploring what the development of the Unst spaceport might mean in the Shetland context.

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, we settled on a hybrid event based around a series of online talks (from Shetland UHI-based and external speakers) alongside some interactive space-related activities at our Lerwick campus.

With the support of Saxavord UK Spaceport, we were able to recruit a fantastic group of engaging experts to compliment the talents of our colleagues at Shetland UHI. The speakers and subjects included:

  • Dr Andrew Jennings (Shetland UHI) who explored how our ancestors looked at the stars with an introduction to Celtic and Norse astronomy
  • Dr Christina Mackaill (York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) who provided a fascinating insight into the effects of space exploration on the human body and the emerging field of space medicine
  • Dr Simon Clarke (Shetland UHI) who examined the history and heritage of RAF Skaw (the proposed spaceport site) and the role of heritage management in contemporary development
  • Dr Hina Khan (Spire Global) who explained why space is such an important and growing part of the Scottish economy, with an introduction to everyday satellite usage
  • The Endeavour Team (a student-led rocketry group based at Edinburgh University) who offered an inspirational insight into their ambitious plans to build space-faring vehicles in Scotland

The talks were livestreamed on Shetland UHI’s Facebook page. This was a new experience for us, but something we were keen to get to grips with to enhance our community engagement and outreach. Space 101 day provided the perfect testing ground for this and it’s safe to say we learned a lot on the day! All the talks are available to watch online.

On-campus activities included a virtual reality space experience, facilitated by the Shetland UHI computing team (Anna Breimann and Euan Robertson). Anna is also Shetland UHI’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) lead and provided lots of informative and interactive materials including models of space vehicles – from Mars Rovers to Saturn V rockets.

The future

It’s fair to say that the creation of a spaceport in Unst will have a profound impact on Shetland’s industrial landscape and the opportunities available for local people. The pace of development in the ‘NewSpace’ sector is almost bewilderingly rapid and the range of potential careers and associated skills needs are vast.

In line with the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Islands Strategy, we will work to align the university’s curriculum, at all levels, with key sectoral priorities in this (and other) rapidly developing industries in the islands. Handled properly, there is little doubt that the burgeoning space industry can help us to retain and retrain skills and high-quality jobs, while also attracting new talent from elsewhere to live, work and study in Shetland and the other islands.

Shetland UHI is committed to helping to maximise the benefits of the industry locally and across the region. We continue to work closely with Saxavord UK Spaceport and our other pipeline partners and hope that this will have been the first of many Space 101 Days.

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