After the success of Tim Peake's Stevenage mission Airbus unveils £3.2m space learning centre to inspire a generation

PUBLISHED: 12:07 04 May 2016 | UPDATED: 12:12 04 May 2016

The mars rover replica which will be controlled by British astronaut Major Tim Peake from the International Space Station

The mars rover replica which will be controlled by British astronaut Major Tim Peake from the International Space Station

Archant

For one brief moment on Friday, Stevenage was at the centre of the world - and even the universe as we know it - as British astronaut Tim Peake took the controls of a prototype Mars rover from his home on board the International Space Station.

The mars rover replica which will be controlled by British astronaut Major Tim Peake from the International Space StationThe mars rover replica which will be controlled by British astronaut Major Tim Peake from the International Space Station

The world’s media descended on Airbus Defence and Space in Gunnels Wood Road to see Britain’s space station crew member guide a rover called Bridget to hit a series of targets.

And he did remarkably well considering he reportedly had just a 10 minute briefing, instructions on a piece of A4 paper, and only 90 minutes to complete his mission.

The firm announced on the same day that wider interest in the Mars project won’t be a flash in the pan.

Not only will Airbus build the rover vehicle scheduled to go to work on the surface of Mars as part of the 2019 ExoMars mission, but it is to give Stevenage schools, colleges and companies unique access to the developing mission through a new education centre.

The mars rover replica turns as it is controlled by British astronaut Major Tim Peake from the International Space StationThe mars rover replica turns as it is controlled by British astronaut Major Tim Peake from the International Space Station

Positioned with its windows looking directing out across a simulated Mars landscape, the £3.2 million Airbus Defence and Space centre for science, technology engineering and maths will welcome 27,000 students in the next five years.

Working in partnership with North Herts College, the ‘STEM’ project will help educate more than 5,000 students a year and, it is hoped, inspire the next generation of space scientists, technicians and engineers.

The college will run a STEM education programme at the centre, working with Airbus Defence and Space’s engineers and technicians.

There will be a series of interactive exhibits as well the chance to see the 30m by 13m test area in action, with prototype rovers negotiating the simulated Martian landscape.

The mars rover replica enters a simulated cave as it is controlled by British astronaut Major Tim Peake from the International Space StationThe mars rover replica enters a simulated cave as it is controlled by British astronaut Major Tim Peake from the International Space Station

Outreach activities for schools and a dedicated website and social media campaign are also planned.

Airbus site director Andy Stroomer said: “By investing in this centre and making the most of the Mars yard test area we hope to encourage students to follow science and engineering careers in the growing space industry and the wider industrial community.

“The partnership between North Herts College and Airbus is a unique collaboration to enhance STEM uptake and build a future generation of skilled workers.”

College principal Matt Hamnett added: “Creating an education centre linked to the ExoMars mission represents a unique opportunity to inspire young people to think about careers in science, tech, engineering and maths.

British astronaut Tim Peake is pictured on the International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASABritish astronaut Tim Peake is pictured on the International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASA

“It is a real pleasure for us to collaborate with a business that is so committed to working with educators and young people to enthuse the next generation.”

The Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership is putting more than £1m into the project, which places Stevenage at the forefront of the space engineering industry in the UK.

Herts LEP makes up one part of Stevenage First – a partnership also involving Stevenage Borough Council, Herts County Council and Herts Chamber of Commerce which is focused on regenerating the town, and hopes the STEM centre will help contribute to the economic buoyancy needed to achieve its aims. Stevenage First chairman Andrew Percival said: “We want to secure future success for Stevenage, Hertfordshire and this key growth area for the South East.

“There is a palpable energy, confidence and determination for growth and change across Stevenage and Hertfordshire, which we now need to build on.

“A live link between Stevenage and the International Space Station is proof of just what can be achieved. We relish the opportunity of working together jointly, taking the small steps needed for one giant leap.”

As if to echo Mr Percival’s comments, just four days after Tim Peake’s mission Airbus announced it has signed a contract with the European Space Agency to build a Biomass satellite which will launch in 2021. It will measure the growth rates of the world’s forests and help chart the impact of deforestation on the environment.

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