Bath Digital Festival insights: navigating the cosmos

Bath Digital Festival insights: navigating the cosmos

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Space innovation and exploration – a Product Manager’s insights

“Are we alone? If not, why have they not made contact yet? If they do, should we be afraid?!” 

These are some of the questions we grappled with over breakfast at Bath Digital Festival – heavy right?! It was a great start to what would become a wonderful day of experiences and learning in an industry that I discovered I don’t know enough about. There’s more to space than being an astronaut.

Did you know, for example, that Uranus was discovered by a Bath resident? As a representative from the Herschel Museum pointed out, in any other city, this claim to fame would be plastered in the arrivals halls at the train station “Welcome to Bath, home to William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus”. The first and only planet to be truly “discovered” –  the others were predicted by mathematicians – we just had to point our telescopes in the right direction. Instead, we’re better known for having been the home for a lady that spent some time in Bath and didn’t really like it. 

At first, I was a bit disappointed that the festival didn’t focus on more traditional “digital” topics, but after experiencing what I did, I’d not have it any other way. Did you know there is such a thing as a “space lawyer” – right?! How cool is that!! But once you start thinking about it, it all becomes a little scary, what cases are these space lawyers working on? Where is the legal precedence from? How can we achieve anything without agreeing globally? 

A little closer to heart, in a debate later in the afternoon, topics a lot more familiar arose. The South West is the third largest space region in the UK, the majority of funding goes to “Primaries” which are large organisations like the Ministry of Defence, and SME’s need to get to that funding via those Primaries, a process that is, judging by the passion and frustration in the room, as painful as it sounds – this is stifling innovation. 

I also learned and was maybe not so surprised, that the space industry often talks to itself. More needs to be done to talk to and understand the end-consumer for all the amazing data and services that space makes available, what are called “downstream industries”. Examples are water companies and local governments that run critical infrastructures. We need to discover how our space tech can help solve real-world problems – how can the data be made accessible and affordable! We have all this good stuff, but no-one wants to pay for it. As someone in the room quoted: There are “infinite possibilities” for the application of data from space. We just need to discover what the most important problems to solve are and how it can be monetised. No small feat. We need a band of organisations or experts that can define the user interface for this data, much like the software model I and all my fellow Product Managers are used to. We need “Space Product Managers”. You heard it here first.  

To end the day, we were reminded that we are all going to die. Space is a scary place, what will obliterate us first? Take your pick: Black holes? Unlikely, Exploding stars? Maybe in a trillion years… Gamma ray bursts? Aliens?… Comets? Getting closer… Last year, AI discovered 27 thousand, that’s right, 27k(!) overlooked asteroids by comparing telescope images. The budget for Mission Impossible was larger than Nasa’s planetary defence systems. It’s pitiful..and our best hope if they do spot something that’s going to hit us? Elon’s Space X Starship – which is currently not working – is the only thing that could be capable of going far enough out into space to affect the trajectory of a deadly rock.

But for me, it was our own space debris that was the scariest concept to come to terms with. Elon Musk alone is busy launching three thousand satellites into orbit every year. There are at least three startups I learnt of that are dedicated to tackling this problem, a bit like David Attenborough did for plastics and the oceans. We need to raise awareness and funding to help find more affordable ways to bring tech back to earth once it’s up there. Soon it will be too risky to launch anything into space for fear of it crashing into other debris – this is stifling innovation. 

And on that high, I leave you with my list of resources collected on the day. Go forth, educate yourself and maybe, one day, you too can join the Space industry and help make the universe a better place. Now that’s a mission to get excited about.

Bath Digital Festival resources:

Head of Product

Karen is Signable’s Head of Product. She has over a decade of experience working with digital products for startup and scaling organisations. When not immersing herself in everything to do with product, strategy and leadership, she is usually exploring the beautiful Cotswolds countryside outside her home in the world heritage city of Bath.