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May 28, 2020

Are Startups Ready To Work In Space?

This week Tim Fleming’s guest is Katherine Courtney, a Non-Executive Director and Chair, strategic advisor, STEM Ambassador and former CEO of the UK Space Agency

Katherine has over 30 year’s experience of business innovation, start-up and expansion and nearly 15 years’ experience forging and implementing high profile UK government policy and programmes. In her early executive career, she developed new ventures for Cable & Wireless, British Telecom and a series of international technology start-ups. As a Senior Civil Servant, she led several landmark UK Government technology-enabled transformation programmes and steered five cross-cutting pieces of legislation successfully through Parliament. During her tenure at the UK Space Agency, she opened the UK market to commercial satellite launch and led €1.4bn investment in collaborative European space missions.

Tim talks to Katherine about her shared passion for space and startups and how there is a strong connection between the two communities.  Katherine shares her thoughts with Tim on how the future habitation of space might work, the impact of space data on the environment and the phenomenon of space debris.

Notes on Ep 4 In Conversation with Katherine Courtney by Tim Fleming

Katherine has an obvious passion for space and also helping the startup community – Katherine has been very generous with her time helping Future Visual navigate some of the institutions within the Space community to discuss use cases for our cross-reality collaboration platform VISIONxR.

Whilst at the UK Space Agency Katherine oversaw the Tim Peake mission to space and played a crucial role in developing relationships with our European space partners.

In conversation with Katherine, her passion and knowledge of the space industry repeatedly came to the fore, ranging from discussions from the need for future habitations in Space, a theory put forward by Stephen Hawking to discussions about treaties for the continued peaceful use of outer space.

I was interested to hear about geo-services and the development of new services from space is clearly a growing sector that will continue to accelerate with the number of satellites being put into orbit. As well as creating solutions they generate problems of their own through the new phenomenon of space debris. Whilst not an entirely new phenomena as from the earliest space programmes, built in debris expulsion was part of their methodology. Now any debris generated has to be carefully considered and Katherine is working to develop programmes to monitor and provide ideas for how to clean up space-junk.

Katherine is also  in discussions about early plans to create what is in effect an air traffic control system for space. Whilst this may currently seem unnecessary, if you cast your mind back to the Wright brothers at the turn of the 20th century, a system to control air “traffic” would have seemed far-fetched and unnecessary. It was only 59 years between the flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk and the flight of the fastest ever aircraft, the SR-71. When looked at from this perspective, planning for space traffic does not seem so extreme. 

The growth of space tourism and the multiple launches of satellites via programmes such as Elon Musk’s Starlink which has permission to launch 12,000 satellites and submitted paperwork for another 30,000 shows you quite how quickly space is becoming congested. 

Live long and prosper!


The Carrington Event  was a huge solar storm in 1859 which if repeated today would create severe disruption to our telecom services with the world’s always-on internet services experiencing significant disruption. It was a  solar coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced the largest geomagnetic storm on record, September 1–2, 1859. The associated “white light flare” in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by British astronomers Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson

A solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts and damage due to extended outages of the electrical grid. The solar storm of 2012 was of similar magnitude, but it passed Earth’s orbit without striking the planet, missing by nine days.

Building New Realities is published every 2 weeks on: 

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Building New Realities Episode 4 was presented by Tim Fleming, Founder of Future Visual, the award winning VR & AR company. Future Visual helps teams achieve faster routes to competency at a reduced risk with VR & AR business solutions. Ground breaking immersive experiences delivering ROI. Future Visual’s VR collaboration tool VISIONxR™ extends your workplace to join remote VR team meetings from remote global locations to collaborate and learn, enhancing high value productivity.