How A Psychologist Started A Space Business And Why Analogue Missions Are Important
Tell us your background and about UKAM
My journey into the space industry isn’t exactly typical. I’ve always been passionate about space, and as I grew up and found myself studying psychology at the University of Surrey, I looked to tie the two together. My first taste of the industry came with a placement year at the Austrian Space Forum in 2016, where I researched factors in team cohesion in simulated space missions or “analogues”. It didn’t take me long to realise that this is an area I wanted to dedicate myself to; the human psyche in isolation and extreme environments is fascinating.
Ultimately, my placement helped me gain practical experience and awareness of the interdisciplinary needs that go into space endeavours, and for that I am truly grateful. This is something that is at the core of UKAM as we want to develop students’ practical skills through analogue missions that will lay a foundation for their future space careers. We want UKAM to serve as a testbed for technological demonstration and research and we aim to assemble a wide audience of students, universities, and businesses with this vision.
The core idea is to allow more individuals into the space industry through the UK, and to inspire the UK public in human spaceflight. We’re currently a team of six individuals, having recently taken on an aerospace student from the University of Surrey, and that number will soon grow as our first analogue mission takes shape. All of us at UKAM are volunteers; all funds go back into what we see is a social enterprise.
How did the idea for UKAM come about and what was it like getting started?
UKAM was a concept that I had carried hungrily following my placement. I was really inspired by my time in Austria, having had the opportunity to meet astronauts (many of whom were my role models), and also conduct research that really mattered and I found fulfilling. I noticed that several countries had analogue missions, including the US, Austria, and Israel, yet the UK still lacked a project like this.
We want UKAM to serve as a testbed for technological demonstration and research and we aim to assemble a wide audience of students, universities, and businesses with this vision.
This became apparent when I met fellow British students at the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Program in 2018, who quickly supported the idea. Three of them became my fellow co-founders; Dilan Kaplan, Alexander Owens, and Charlie Clark and we quickly bonded over the benefits of space analogue missions. In the fall of 2018, we co-founded the UK Analogue Mission. We made the most of our ISU connections and experience, and quickly rallied collaborators, including SAGA Space Architects and D-Mars.
How did you fund the company initially?
Each of us has invested a small amount of funding to get the company incorporated, set up our website, and begun to attend relevant space events. We’re still early in our journey being less than a year old, yet are already looking at numerous ways to expand; we have a crowdfund that will be released in the near future, to supplement our other financial efforts. We have some exciting partnerships in the pipeline, that will drive UKAM forward financially. Some of these will be announced soon!
Why is the problem you are solving important and how does it help human space exploration?
As a student, I was always on the lookout for ways to get involved with the space industry; this was particularly hard given my niche of space psychology, but I quickly realised that this is a shared problem amongst most disciplines. At UKAM we want to use analogue mission projects as platforms for students to explore their chosen discipline.
Our project needs people across all industries. Whether you are a lawyer, engineer, social scientist, artist, or doctor, we can guarantee there is a role for you in simulated space missions. On the grander scale, UKAM serves as a social enterprise which looks to get the British public invested in space.
We realise the importance of undertaking such missions for students, agencies, and businesses, however also value communicating our work effectively. Space is epic. It’s inspired many generations of students to go into the industry and bring technologies that have improved our lives for the better. You can guarantee that if even a small percentage of our British students follow such paths via UKAM, we will be vocal about it.
Our project needs people across all industries. Whether you are a lawyer, engineer, social scientist, artist, or doctor, we can guarantee there is a role for you in simulated space missions.
This is why we want to simulate space missions. They provide a low-cost, low-risk opportunity to test technology and procedures for future missions; we want to provide future space leaders that gateway to the space industry, and let the British public know why that’s important.
What are some achievements you're proud of?
While we are still in our infancy, we are proud to have several achievements to our name already. The first of which was during the International Space University, in which a collaboration with the D-Mars team led us to win a competition at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre, Noordwyk.
This supported our beliefs that our idea was valid and, since then, we have refined our concept. Our first sentimental achievement was taking in our first student, who will be working closely with our CTO to effectively communicate the mission through IT support. We also have several collaborations under way which will allow us to expand rapidly over the next year.
What have been some of your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges facing a new organisation is funding, and while that is something we are currently tackling, one of the main challenges we face is explaining what an analogue mission actually is. We aren’t a typical space industry organisation and, whilst the UK has great expertise in development of small satellites and launchers, UKAM will explore the potential of our human spaceflight capability here in the UK.
While we are for-profit, all of that profit goes back into the organisation itself and ultimately reinvested into community oriented projects. What we are is a passionate cohort of space professionals who want to simulate Lunar and Martian missions here on Earth, for the benefit of students and the UK industry.
We’ve carefully considered how we approach and discuss our organisation with collaborators. Words such as “analogue” and “simulation” can easily be misinterpreted or confusing, so we’ve had to carefully create our narrative and communication style when conversing with collaborators and partners. On top of that, while there are analogue missions in other countries, we have the challenge of being the first to do so in the UK.
We like the challenge, and enjoy discussing why such an organisation can bring benefits for the UK space industry. The way we tackle this communication problem is, ironically enough, by communicating. We are all travelling to events nationally and internationally to discuss our vision with space professionals, the most recent being the 2019 UKSEDS National Student Space Conference in Edinburgh. There, we met a myriad of students who were highly interested in our goals.
Our current strategy is to raise funding and awareness within the UK space community itself. Soon after that, we want to begin to incorporate and communicate with the public.
What are exciting milestones coming up for UKAM?
Our next six months are focused on securing funding and developing our collaborations with two key partners.
We are currently working with the Danish company SAGA Space Architects, who will be undertaking the creative process of designing and constructing our analogue mission habitat. That habitat will provide the platform for future analogue missions and projects to come, including that of the Career Astronaut competition with our partners AdvancingX, who will utilize our habitat as part of their training. The winning team in that competition will engage in a suborbital flight in 2023.
This is why we are raising funding to construct our analogue habitat before 2020. In the long term, we will have our first UK analogue mission in fall 2020 with a team comprised of students and professionals.
What advice do you have for aspiring space entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea you’re truly passionate about, share it with as diverse an audience as you can. You can learn a lot about how people perceive your company, which helps how you market yourself in the future.
The other advice I’d have is that it truly doesn’t matter what background you come from; the space industry has a place for your skills. Our co-founders are comprised of a space lawyer, two engineers, and a space psychologist. From my time at the Austrian Space Forum and the International Space University, I was made aware of a multitude of occupations that are involved in space, ranging from journalists, business professionals, artists and more.
The industry is hard to break into, yet great ideas can grow from anybody willing to work hard enough, and often enough. We know that we face a challenge of being the first analogue mission here in the UK. this provides a difficulty in explaining our goals. Thankfully, we’re collaborating with existing analogue missions internationally that show what we want to achieve is possible, and holds valid benefits to society.
How can the public support you with your mission?
UKAM-1 will be a two-week simulated lunar mission in Scotland with a crew of 4 analogue astronaut, who will undertake various scientific experiments whilst under the replicated strain of a lunar environment. We will have a habitat that will house the astronauts and a mission control centre that will provide communications and support from afar, with a mixture of student and space professional staff.
It truly doesn’t matter what background you come from; the space industry has a place for your skills. Our co-founders are comprised of a space lawyer, two engineers, and a space psychologist.
Our journey to our first analogue mission in 2020 is looking promising with our existing collaborations, and we are excited to get more students and professionals involved as we close in on that date. We’ve already received a wide range of support from national and international space professionals offering their services.
At the moment we still have several volunteer positions available for students looking to gain some experience in the summer; if you know anyone who would be interested, take a look at our website: https://ukam.space/join-us/. We’d like to stress that all co-founders and staff are currently volunteers, as all funding is directed back into the company. On the topic of funding, we have developed a crowdfunding campaign that will go live in the next few months, so we will appreciate your support when that is released!
If you are part of an organisation that would like to actively collaborate with UKAM, send us an email at email@example.com.
Lastly, where can people find out more about UKAM and follow along?
You can visit our website where you can find out more about us and our mission. You can also follow us on social media: our Facebook, our Instagram and Twitter. We also have several volunteer opportunities available here.
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