Following on from the previous year’s successes, we were looking to remain overall winners of the IOSM competition for a second year in a row. We assembled a team of 10 people coming from both engineering and economics backgrounds – across a range of cohorts – in order to do so. Soon, we began researching potential technology areas for our concept, as part of the first challenge phase. Ideas that members of the team explored for our combined technology and business proposal ranged from modular space stations, to accelerating wine aging in microgravity, to space-based solar power, to many other ideas.

Moving into the second challenge phase, we initially decided upon a modular space station concept. Discussions among the team as to whether the idea held economic viability, however, meant that we later revised our idea – pursuing a microgravity manufacturing / research platform instead. Across this second phase, we built out how the spacecraft would be able to support synthesis of unique pharmaceutical drugs, manufacture high purity ZBLAN optical fibres, perform research on organoids (essentially mini organs), and more. Systems architecture and mission profiles were also put together. We then built out roadmaps for hypothetical venture capital & research funding, and how our hypothetical startup would both scale and operate.

The final challenge phase demanded that we assemble a poster for our technology concept, along with a one-pager (an appealing and to-the-point summary of our financials and funding projections). Most importantly, we had to put together a venture capital pitch for the hypothetical business, and the technology idea backing it – think Dragon’s Den style. We would then be presenting this in-person to a panel of experts from the In-Orbit Servicing & Manufacturing industry. Panel members came from key positions at Airbus, Space Forge, Astroscale, and more.

3 members of the team (myself, Ana and Taha) drove to the Westcott Space Cluster, a key location for space-sector innovation in the UK, to give the pitch. Preparations ran right down to the line, with us iterating on the slides and practicing our lines the whole journey – arriving ready just in time! Along with the pitch competition, we also had several talks given from members of the space sector, all of which gave strong insight into the inner workings of the industry. Tours were also given of manufacturing facilities on-site. Our pitch went well, with us being able to articulate a range of complex aspects of the concept during the panel’s Q&A too. Unfortunately, however, we ended up being beaten out by an incredibly strong pitch from the team from Cranfield University – coming second.

After 2 years in the competition, I can firmly say that the skills, experience, and network that those who involve themselves can gain in it are invaluable. I’ve been able to learn an enormous amount about so many areas of the space sector, as well as how intertwined the business and engineering aspects are. Through the industrial mentors the competition provides each team – in addition to the networking opportunities it provides – I’ve been able to meet and learn from some of the top professionals in the industry too. It’s safe to say that many of my teammates from across the past two years would say the same. To those interested, I cannot recommend the competition enough.

– Reuben Carter, IOSM Team Lead 21/22, 22/23