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Alasdair Hamilton

Consul General & Deputy Governor to the Pitcairn Islands

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

11th January 2019 Auckland, New Zealand

The Far Side

A lunar view from the Jade Rabbit 2 Rover

That term has practically slipped away into the ether since the retirement of the wonderful cartoonist Gary Larsson in 1995. But as all space watchers will be only too acutely aware it is a term that has dominated the electronic and print media since the landing of the Chang’e 4 Rover on the South Pole-Aitken Basin on 3 January. Yes, the Chinese have brought the term back, and with a scientific bang. In doing so they have demonstrated to a global audience just how far their space industry has come since their first manned space mission in 2003. It goes without saying that the academic and scientific community of the UK are in great admiration for the achievements China has made here, landing a Rover on the far side of the moon.

It was in 2005 that the UK and China started an annual space workshop, following its inauguration by UK Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury and the Director General of the China National Space Administration, Sun Laiyan. And there has been a workshop every year since, with the most recent being last month from 11 to 13 December in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. It is an event organised by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL Space) from the UK and Beihang University from China and supported by the Science & Innovation Network.

Held just four days after the launch of the Chang’e 4 mission the latest workshop, or conference as it is now being called, was also the largest in its thirteen-year history. There were over 150 delegates in attendance, consisting of 30 UK organisations taking part. This is a platform for scientists, academics, business representatives and Government officials (people like me!) to discuss new areas of collaboration in non-sensitive areas; namely in earth observation, commercial applications, education and training, emerging space technology and astronomy.

Vice Administrator, Mr Tian Yulong, from the China National Space Administration

“New Space” was a term that was very much in focus with opportunities to support the burgeoning Telecoms, Internet of Things and Earth Observation sectors in data management, image processing (and associated machine learning), and insurance products to transfer risk. Notable opportunities with emerging technologies were in robotics testing, landing rovers and their sub systems, space debris removal, high efficient power systems, next generation solar panels and (for some ambitious blue skies thinking) asteroid mining. On that last part did you know there is an asteroid 2.5 million miles from earth which contains platinum with a market value of $4.5 trillion? When the technology is ready and this becomes economically viable there will be opportunities here too – so it’s perhaps not too hard to imagine my grand-children looking at career opportunities and this one pops up – asteroid mining, now hiring!

China’s national pride in the success of the Change’4 mission was captured in a key note speech from Mr Tian Yulong, Vice Administrator of the China National Space Administration, who also spoke of his wish to see closer engagement between the UK and China in space missions which will benefit science for both our countries. That is of course is a core objective of the UK Science & Innovation Network and why we support this platform of engagement every year.

Next year’s conference will be in the UK. I hope it will be in Leicester where delegates will be able to witness development on the new Space Park, which will become an important hub for academic and industry collaboration in space science and technology, when completed in 2021/22. Watch this space for an update.

Anu Ojha, from the National Space Academy, presents on Space Park Leicester

About Alasdair Hamilton

Alasdair took up his role as Consul General Auckland and Deputy Governor of the Pitcairn Islands in January 2021. His previous role was Head of Science & Innovation at the…

Alasdair took up his role as Consul General Auckland and Deputy Governor of the Pitcairn Islands in January 2021.

His previous role was Head of Science & Innovation at the British Embassy in Beijing. Prior to that he was Deputy Head of Ukraine Team in London. Alasdair has done a range of political, consular and trade support roles in previous postings to Accra, Jerusalem, Jakarta, Freetown, Port Moresby and Kuala Lumpur.

Alasdair is married to Erie Hamilton and they have three children.

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