The Rt Hon Stephen McPartland

Stephen McPartland MP was asked to speak at the launch of the YuriGagarin50 launch event in Westminster on behalf of the Parliamentary Space Committee, after which he was interviewed by Russian TV. Below is text on which his speech was based:

“It is my pleasure to be asked to speak, and to represent Stevenage, which can reasonably claim the title of being the home of Britain’s space industry.  I’m delighted to learn that the sector aims to create a further 100,000 new jobs in the UK over the next twenty years, many of which will be in my constituency. This is a sunrise sector that is set to keep growing; it already supports 70,000 jobs across the UK, adding over £6 billion to the UK economy each year, and growth in the UK’s space economy has consistently outstripped the rest of the economy for a decade.

Space is a vital part of the economy in the constituency I represent.  We are very proud to be home to Astrium, Britain’s largest space technology company.  Astrium alone employs more than 1,500 people in my constituency, and these are quality jobs, too.  Space employs the most highly skilled workforce in UK manufacturing – in Stevenage more than two thirds of Astrium’s workforce have at least one degree, many two – this is twice the national average.  Space is big business here in Britain, and it is driven by innovation.  Today’s satellites can broadcast 500 digital channels, 200 HD channels or 4000 radio stations.  Ten years ago a satellite could broadcast 30 channels.

As part of my most recent visit to Astrium, I toured the main offices to talk to my constituents about what working in the space sector is like. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and by the sheer variety of their work.  Engineers in Stevenage are designing Britain’s Mars Rover, they are designing a new satellite, Aeolus, that could transform weather forecasting by measuring wind speed and direction at 25 different altitudes using high-powered laser; I spoke to young engineers working on a science mission called LISA Pathfinder that will test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity by trying to measure the gravity waves emanating from the Big Bang.

When I first visited Astrium, I asked the question, how can you help raise aspiration amongst young people locally?  It is through events such as this and around the UK, and building the vital relationship between business and education space in Stevenage. Astrium currently relies heavily on a team of about 50 STEM Ambassadors, as they are now known, in Stevenage. They work closely with the local Setpoint or Stemnet organisations and visit two or three schools or colleges each week during term time and run many visits on site.  They also help out with UK Space School visits, Science and Careers fairs and supervise Engineering Education Scheme teams and Nuffield students. In all it is estimated that they 'see' more than 5,000 students a year.

The STEM Ambassadors work with many local schools in Stevenage and the surrounding area.  John Henry Newman, Heathcote, Marriott and Barnwell participate in the RAEng's Engineering Education Scheme with Astrium Engineers setting teams of 4 or 5 students the task of designing and building a specialist piece of hardware for a new space mission while many other schools, visit the site to learn about the UK's leading role in the International Space Industry and speak to the young engineers and scientists who are designing our satellite systems for TV broadcast satellites or missions to Mercury and beyond!

Students see many of the spacecraft being built and also get the chance to touch and feel the lightweight materials used.  They can also join in team working exercises to either build a 'Balloon Rocket' which has to carry 'diamonds' on a cable over a ravine or design and build an 'Eggsat' satellite with an egg as the payload.  In doing this they have to work out the lightest weight structure and lowest cost systems that will complete the mission, but also survive the harsh vibration testing require to launch into space.  Many eggs do not survive!

So it is my pleasure to be here, to thank you all for your vital work in Britain’s schools, including the many in my constituency that have been touched by space, and to congratulate the many young faces here today for choosing a sector that is one of the most exciting in Britain today. I wish you all good luck!”