Reaching for the stars

An article I wrote is the cover story for the latest edition of Metal World, the quarterly magazine for the International Federation of Metalworkers (IMF). I was very excited to see the feature in print today, accompanied by Andrew Wiard’s excellent photos.

The feature is about Astrium, one of the most advanced companies in the space industry. Most people first heard of Astrium when they launched Beagle 2, but I was there to find out about the satellites  the plant makes and how they can help with the fight against climate change. My trip to the Astrium plant (in Stevenage, Hertfordshire) was one of the highlights of my year.

I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of the plant, which included getting to see two of the satellites currently being built. One, Gaia, will map a billion stars with the most powerful telescope ever created. The other, Aeolus, will focus on the Earth and give us information about global climate change indicators.

My day at Astrium was an eye-opener because I had had no idea how much satellite technology can do to help us deal with climate change: supplying the data for climate scientists’ computer models, giving warning of extreme weather events, letting aid workers communicate when a disaster destroys phone lines, telling reconstruction workers about the extent of the damage and what needs repairing, mediating water disputes... the list goes on and on. Of course, it’s only a powerful tool if we use it, and everybody I spoke to while researching the article agreed that political will is the real problem.

I’m very grateful to Peter Cheney at Astrium for spending the whole day with me, showing me round and explaining thermal engineering concepts in ways that even a humanities graduate could understand.

You can read the full article on the IMF website.