December 2010: TECHNOLOGY firms in the region will next week [w/c December 6] learn about the opportunities to be involved in one of the world's largest astronomy projects, which has already enlisted the services of two North East companies.
Over the next seven years, a global consortium of 70 businesses and world-leading university research teams from 20 countries, will build the biggest radio telescope in history, in a bid to unlock the secrets of the universe by looking deeper into space than ever before.
The £1,260m Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project will see around 3,000 dishes, each 15m wide, spread over thousands of kilometres in either Australasia or Southern Africa, with a decision on its location to be taken next year.
The SKA will be 50 times more sensitive and 10,000 faster than any current radio telescope and will even need its own version of a new internet to process the vast amount of data it records.
A key member of the team leading SKA's development will be in the North East next week as a headline speaker at the photovoltaic technology conference Solar Flair 10 in County Durham.
Phil Crosby, manager of SKA's industry participation strategy at its UK office in Manchester, will explain the technological and energy demands of the project and discuss why solar power could be central to its success.
Two North East businesses have already won contracts to work on SKA and, according to Mr Crosby, there is potential for more, given that the majority of work in designing and building the project is yet to be done.
However, he is keen to point out that the SKA is still in its design phase and winning contracts to help develop and build SKA will require patience and be extremely competitive.
He said: "There are going to be opportunities to be involved, although it's early days. Large contracts aren't going to be coming out for a couple of years yet and we are still in the design and cost phase, but yes, there are opportunities.
"There have already been some small scale contracts and there will be more of those and there are some small scale manufacturing and design contracts flowing at the moment. There is also scope for work on some small scale fabrication as part of the prototyping.
"The project has to be in the desert as we can't have any interference so it has to be away from people. That also means there is no power, so there is most likely to be a solar power station, especially as there is huge pressure on the project to have a green solution."
Engineering firms DPE Automotive and Durham Precision Engineering, both of Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, are currently the region's only firms that have already won work on the ambitious SKA project.
Durham Precision Engineering has supplied components for SKA trials in Manchester, while the final design will likely involve the two County Durham businesses working together to supply volume parts for the dense array system.
DPE's business development manager Geoff Mason, who will be in attendance at the Solar Flair 10 conference, said: "It is definitely worth North East firms trying to get involved in the project. Once companies get to understand what the project's requirements are, they can develop what they need, although it can take time.
"Having been involved with the SKA team from day one it is well understood that we need to design and manufacture tools and processes for special components that will both meet the demands of the harsh environment that they will encounter and at the right price."
Solar Flair 10 has been organised by County Durham Development Company (CDDC) and will be held at Lumley Castle, County Durham on December 8 and 9.
Alongside Mr Crosby, other speakers at the event include representatives from the UK's flagship printable electronics facility PETEC, based at NETPark in County Durham, and Alastair Wilson and Nigel Rix from the Electronics, Sensors, Photonics Knowledge Transfer Network (ESP KTN).
ESP KTN, which supports technology communities and aims to help achieve growth by bringing representative of different strands of innovation together, will use the conference to set out a future strategy for the solar electricity market.
Other key organisations represented at the event include Boeing's US space photo-voltaic manufacturer, SpectroLab Inc., the North East-based renewable energy centre Narec and global clean energy services company Senergy, which has an office in Newcastle.
The last remaining tickets for the event are available on the Solar Flair 10 website. For more information visit http://www.solarflair10.com/.
Media: For more information contact Louise Robinson of Stride PR on 0191 383 0960 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes for editors:
NETPark Net is a virtual innovation network for companies operating or planning to operate within the Science, Engineering and Technology sectors.
It provides companies with direct access to online collaboration and business development tools as well as business support services including access to expertise, market intelligence, innovation management, tenders and opportunities as well as one-to-one clinics, workshops and events, and a virtual office facility. NETPark Net allows science and technology companies to access the innovation support offered by the North East Technology Park (NETPark) in Sedgefield, County Durham.
The project is part financed by the European Union's ERDF Competitiveness programme 2007-13, securing £0.22m of ERDF investment through the Regional Development Agency One North East. The ERDF programme is bringing over £250m into the North East to support innovation, enterprise and business support across the region. This project has received funding from Durham County Council through County Durham Development Company.
NETPark - the North East Technology Park - is located in Sedgefield, County Durham. It is North East England's premier science, engineering and technology park for the commercialisation of cutting edge R&D, where companies lead the way in developing world-class technologies, creating new products and new markets. http://www.northeasttechnologypark.com/
The ERDF Competitiveness Programme 2007-13 for North East England is managed by One North East on behalf of the European Commission, national government and regional partners.
ERDF 2007-13 is focusing on:
Innovation - promoting science, technology and innovation in businesses and institutions across the region.
Enterprise and business support - encouraging more people to start up in business, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, and helping established businesses develop, grow and innovate.
More than £300m ERDF investment is available for the region from 2007-13. ERDF investment is limited to 50% of total eligible cost and must be matched by other public and private sources. For every pound of ERDF investment, regional partners lever in another pound for the key priorities of innovation, enterprise and business support.
The programme is underpinned by the three important cross cutting themes of environmental sustainability, equality of opportunity and sustainable communities.
County Durham Development Company is the innovation and strategic investment arm of Durham County Council, responsible for maximising the positive economic impact of the knowledge-driven economy in County Durham for the benefit of the people and businesses of County Durham. CDDC is responsible for managing and promoting NETPark. http://www.wherebusinessgrows.com/