Hire me!

astronomy, BIS, communication, science, science communication, SGAC, space exploration, UKSEDS, UNAWE

Hello there!

For those of you who follow me on Twitter or my blog, you may already know a bit about me and my activities. I’m currently looking out for possible writing opportunities in science, physics and astronomy. If you’ve reached here and you’re someone looking for pitches, I’d be interested in the types of stories you have the most urgent need to fill!

My name is Ryan Laird, a science communicator from the UK and active #spacetweep. Since the start of January, I have been working as a Science Communication Intern at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) — the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. Based in Garching near Munich, Germany, I am working in ESO’s ePOD (education and Public Outreach Department) with a team of professional science communicators for the preparation of ESO, European Space Agency (ESA)/Hubble Space Telescope and International Astronomical Union (IAU) news and photo releases, publications, web pages, video scripts, exhibition panels and other public communication products. In addition, I have been actively supporting communication regarding the ESO Ultra HD expedition and am a ghostwriter for the UHD blog. I’ve become used to the fast pace dynamic and accuracy as required in this role.

I am a recent Graduate of the International Space University (ISU)‘s Space Studies Programme 2013 (SSP13), where I received generous support from the UK Space Agency and ESA. I am also a graduate of the University of Leicester, UK where obtained the degree of Physics with Astrophysics MPhys (Hons).

I have cherished many different opportunities to apply my skills and knowledge in a variety of areas including UKSEDS, Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), Universe Awareness (UNAWE), ESO and the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009), among industry experts, university departments and other research organisations. I have also been actively involved in research and academia, having co-authored in the journal Nature — Snodgrass, C. et al., Nature, 467, 814-816 (2010), among others, gaining experience in the planetary sciences while researching Jupiter Family Comets.

I recently helped support the UNAWE International Office in Leiden, Netherlands where my main role was to expand the concept of Space Scoop (astronomy news for kids) to a diverse range of media platforms and syndicate the content. Here I investigated the best way to improve the syndication and distribution of science content produced for and by children to mainstream children’s media. I also wrote a number of Space Scoop articles and reviews of space content for kids.

Last year I also supported SGAC at their office in Vienna, Austria at the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI). There I supported SGAC’s network of over 4000 members across more than 90 countries. In this capacity, I helped organise the Space Generation Fusion Forum, preparing and editing the SGAC Annual Report, supporting general operations, web content and administration.

I also regularly write for the British Interplanetary Society‘s magazine, Spaceflight and as Vice Chair (formerly Secretary), I prepare content for UKSEDS‘ media. In addition, I maintain my own website here at rjmlaird.co.uk where I write some of my own musings in a blog, along with some space news and is where you can find additional information about me and my work.

Together my experiences have provided a me with a great range of expertise, which I’d be keen to use in a capacity to further promote astronomy, space and physics to a much wider audience — subjects very close to my heart. To further acquaint you with the specifics of my background you can view my CV from my website here (also downloadable as a .pdf and viewable on LinkedIn), along with my activities and publications which show some of my writing samples.

Also View Ryan Laird's profile on LinkedIn is where you can see some recommendations on my work. Most recently my Head of Department  (ePOD) here at ESO, Lars Lindberg Christensen, wrote me a reference downloadable here as .pdf. I am happy to provide further references if needed.

Do please get in touch if you know of or have any opportunities available.

Report: National Student Space Conference 2014

astronomy, human spaceflight, ISU, science, science communication, SGAC, UKSEDS


On 1st and 2nd March, space enthusiasts descended on the University of Leicester for the UKSEDS National Student Space Conference 2014. Aimed at UK students, each year the conference is a key opportunity to meet and network with a wide range of people in the space sector from academia to industry, across multiple disciplines. It is also a great time for students from UKSEDS’ various branches to meet together in one place and discuss their activities. This year the event was in its 26th year.

The conference was a real sell-out once again with over 250 delegates* from many UKSEDS branches spanning the width and breadth of the country — from Edinburgh to Kent to Southampton, Exeter, Manchester and Strathclyde. We were also happy to welcome our international friends at SEDS-USA and EUROAVIA once again. We had a great range of talks throughout the weekend from spaceplanes to cubesats, ISS, outreach and education, space biomedicine, astronomy, Mars and beyond.

Highlights included a talk by British ESA Astronaut Major Tim Peake who Skyped in from Houston to talk about his mission alongside the outreach components of his mission, along with Jeremy Curtis (Head of Education and Outreach, UK Space Agency) (See featured image**). There was a good chance of a Q&A and for delegates to engage with Tim. He revealed how his mission is being prepared and how his food and drinks will be sent up in advance, sharing his love of Yorkshire Tea. Sheffield SEDS (ShefSEDS) tweeted this, amusingly re-tweeted and replied to by Yorkshire Tea:

It was great to see Tim enjoyed all the questions from the audience.

Our Saturday keynote included Prof. Richard Brown from the Centre for Future Air-Space Transportation Technology, University of Strathclyde who gave a very inspiring talk on ‘Shock Waves and the Design of Future Spacecraft’.

Following this, delegates were invited to a networking reception, kindly sponsored by Reaction Engines Ltd. After which, delegates could attend the UKSEDS social and enjoy a tasty buffet meal and mingle with other delegates.

Sunday morning started with Dr David Parker (CEO, UK Space Agency) who spoke about the latest developments on UK Space activities.

CEO of UK Space Agency, Dr David Parker addressing NSSC2014. Credit: Prof. Chris Welch

Credit: Telespazio Vega DE

Throughout the weekend Telespazio Vega Deutschland demonstrated their Satellite Operations Training simulator, allowing delegates to simulate real in-­orbit satellite operations throughout the conference.

The conference would not have been possible without the kind sponsorship of Reaction Engines, Telespazio VEGA Deutschland, UK Space Agency, HE Space, Printech Circuit Laboratories, Sapienza Consulting, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Royal Aeronautical Society, Serco Group, AstroGnome, International Space University, RAL Space, and Avanti Communications Group plc, and the support of the British Interplanetary Society, ESERO-UK, European Southern Observatory (ESO), ESA Education Office, AstRoSoc Leicester, University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy, Leicester Astronomical Society and EUROAVIA.

Many thanks also to all our wonderful speakers throughout the conference. Presentations will be made available on our conference site at: ukseds.org/nssc2014

If you have any photos from NSSC2014, please share them with us at pr@ukseds.org.

See you in 2015!

*figure includes all exhibitors, speakers and volunteers.
**Featured image: British ESA Astronaut, Tim Peake addressing NSSC2014. Credit: Jane MacArthur
Written by Ryan Laird for UKSEDS.

Classical Vienna

SGAC, travel, UNCOPUOS, Vienna

Over the weekend I re-visited a city I grew to love over my short time living there last year – Vienna.

In a short three or so months, it became my home; one I became rather fond of. It was my first experience living outside of my country (UK) but most difficult was not knowing the language, which I quickly had to familiarise myself with. I only ever learnt French and Spanish at school (which I became rather fluent in at the time), so this was a completely new experience. Looking back, I realise how much it changed me as a person and gave me the confidence to travel more and more, going forward with new experiences abroad.

One year ago, I attended the UN COPUOS (United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. It was a privilege and honour to present there on behalf of SGAC. This year unfortunately, I have been able to attend the subcommittee, but I have been following it closely on Twitter at #COPUOS. Instead I was able to return over the weekend while a number of people were visiting the city, along with the friends I made while I lived there. Vienna is only 4 hours away from Munich!

This season is typically ball season in Vienna, something I was unfortunate to miss while living in the city. It was a great excuse to return and see some old friends (see featured image). Many of us booked to attend the Johann Strauss Ball, as part of The Sound of Vienna season – a very classical Viennese ball.

I suppose I like to think I can dance. Maybe after a few drinks, I might try out some of my moves! My dancing skills may well be questionable by most. It was great therefore to have some Austrian natives (friends) teach us how to Waltz and Quadrille.

I knew of the former, quite well knowing some classical music, but I only very vaguely knew how to dance it.

Quadrille was completely new for me. It does seem rather complex and it is hard to get right.  There are several parts to learn in the sequence, making it quite tricky to bring together. In particular, I was taught the dance in English and knowing only a little German, it was difficult to understand the instructions given from the stage. The sequence was sped up more and more, which made it even more difficult but rather funny.

Of course, Vienna wouldn’t have been complete if I hadn’t revisited a Viennese cafe for Viennese coffee and torte (cake) (see featured image above).

Overall, a very classical Viennese weekend. I shall hope to return soon for SpaceUp:Vienna and Yuri’s Night.

The classic Viennese coffee and Sacher Torte combination. Image via TripAdvisor

Featured image (top) credit: Vojna Ngjeqari

David Willetts Speech on UK & European Space

EU, human spaceflight, politics, science, SGAC

Yesterday, Wednesday 29th January at the Fifth Plenary session: European Commission – Brussels, the UK Minister for Universities and Science, the Rt Hon David Willetts MP gave the following speech. I reproduce this here via the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills page.

Let me know your take on the speech, whether critical or sceptical, positive, if you have any comments or thoughts or anything to add. For example, what are your thoughts on the relation between the EU and ESA? How can Europe make itself more competitive on the global scale?

I am keen to hear international perspectives of such a speech, especially as a UK National Point of Contact for SGAC. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

What are the new challenges and opportunities for Europe in Space?

It is a great pleasure to be here at this important and timely discussion about what lies ahead for Europe in space.

Let me begin, briefly, by looking back. Just over 50 years ago, in 1962, Britain became the third space-faring nation – and the first in Europe – when it took up NASA’s call to help build the first international satellite, Ariel-1. This mission, the first of six, was designed to study the very fringe of space and its interaction with our upper atmosphere. Back in those Cold War times this was critical to understanding whether nuclear missiles would work. But as is so often the case, the pursuit of knowledge leads us in directions we don’t expect. Those early missions also pinpointed unknown objects emitting high energy x-rays, which eventually confirmed the existence of black holes and colliding galaxies. Six months later Ariel-1, was regrettably destroyed in an atmospheric nuclear test.

In 1964 two new European space research organisations were created, marking Europe’s collective arrival on the space stage. The first, the European Space Research Organisation, was set up by the founding fathers of CERN, as an international treaty organisation. The second, the European Launch Development Organisation, was set up – with strong UK backing – to secure Europe’s independent access to space. At that time Britain was keen on launchers. Indeed, we had our own expertise in rocketry and were eager to share that knowledge with our European partners. These two organisations eventually merged in 1975 to form the European Space Agency. And we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its forerunners this year.

This anniversary, and the Ariel-1 mission, are a reminder of the necessity of international collaboration in space. And this is what I want to focus on today.

The EU’s involvement in space is more recent – dating back to the 1990s – with research and development work on space, followed closely by the Galileo satellite navigation initiative. In that time the Galileo programme has had its ups and downs, but I am very pleased that it is now delivering good results. I thank Vice President Tajani for his ambition and commitment. From this year, Galileo will provide early services, giving accurate local information anywhere on earth. The joint commitment and investment in the programme has been confirmed, and the first satellites show a high quality of signal. I am proud that the UK has been involved at every level of this important venture. We have contributed cutting edge technology to every Galileo satellite built and will do so for all the satellites under contract.

Lessons must be gleaned from the discussions and challenges of the last few years The EU has established a specialist delivery arm in the Galileo Agency, the GSA, based in Prague. The Commission is not designed to manage delivery of a multi-billion euro space programme. Specialists are needed.

Copernicus, which will allow huge leaps forward in climate change modelling, is making good progress on both the legal and technical fronts. And we have seen successful launches of some fantastic European Space Agency missions, including Swarm and Gaia, to continue to push the boundaries of human knowledge.

But the rest of the world has not been standing still. In December China’s lunar rover, the first to land on the moon in nearly 40 years, began sending back pictures. The latest reports suggest the ‘Jade Rabbit’ has run into serious problems. But this mission reminds us of the pace and scale of their programme. The next man or woman on the moon may well be Chinese. And at a similar time in the US, we are beginning to see commercial models of space activity emerge with the Falcon 9 rocket developed by SpaceX Ltd. And Virgin Galactic has recently completed further successful tests, making the launch of the world’s first commercial sub-orbital space service this year a very real possibility.

We are also seeing the development of competitive space sectors in the emerging powers, such as India and Brazil. There are now more space-faring nations, more space agencies, and more industrial players keen to have a slice of the market.

This reminds us that the challenge for us in Europe is to be as ambitious and active as these other major players – commercially-focused and joined up. There are massive opportunities – and we must seize them. Europe is winning contracts from customers around the world with our scientific and technical excellence. Last year I was privileged to attend the launch of Alphasat, the largest commercial communications satellite ever built – and built in Europe for a European customer. A new digital age requires a new generation of satellite: bigger, better and transnational. And we have shown we can deliver that.

This is why we have always sought to play a constructive role on space in the EU. We have also played an active part in ESA Ministerials and taken steps to forge bilateral links with other European countries. Only this week, I hosted Professor Johann-Dietrich Wörner of DLR on a visit to see the development in Britain of the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) – an engine which could transform the future of launch technology. And this Friday I will be welcoming the French Minister Genevieve Fioraso to the UK, when the French and British space agencies will make announcements on the future of their bilateral cooperation.

Our goal must be to make Europe the best place in the world to do space R&D, and the best place to establish a space-based business. This isn’t just about the level of government investment. We also need to develop a supportive European ecosystem for space. There are three areas where I think that the European Commission can make a positive contribution to support the ambitions of the Member States.

First, we must resolve the relationship between the EU and ESA. Each organisation needs to play to its own strengths so that Europe as a whole is stronger.

The EU’s role in space was made explicit in the Treaty of Lisbon. We have touched already on the Galileo and Copernicus, which must now be successfully delivered and exploited. The EU could also play a vital role in establishing a level playing field for the space exports that will drive growth. We need Commission support in ensuring that European space industries have fair access to major markets abroad. How can the Commission help us export much more?

Complementing the work of the European Commission, ESA is a hugely valuable organisation, and maintains a science base that is truly world class. From advancing our understanding of our changing planet and our solar system to major scientific and technological advances, its contribution is more than just as a research and development agency. As a layman I find it astonishing to think that since its launch before Christmas, Gaia has travelled 1.5 million kilometres to where it will measure the position and motion of a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy. It is the largest digital camera in space and able to detect stars 400 times fainter than the human eye can see. This is an incredible technical achievement for Europe – and we are of course proud that the camera detector is British built.

It is clear that the EU and the ESA need each other, and must collaborate. Each is a great asset for the other. We cannot afford for them to be in competition. The UK Government does not support the Commission’s proposal to bring ESA into the EU. This suggestion has caused a lot of distraction and delay, while our competitors outside Europe focus on growth and make progress. I hope the Commission will rule out making ESA part of the EU decisively very soon.

Of course ESA needs to evolve as well. Where ESA acts as a delivery agent for an exclusively EU-funded programmes, there is a need for greater clarity on the rules that govern that relationship. And above all ESA must reinforce its reputation as the leading space R&D agency for Europe. As well as technical excellence it must ensure it delivers projects on-time and on-cost.

We cannot afford to split R&D efforts between the EU and ESA. Financially, each member state must be prudent and make cost-effective investments. To deliver best value for money, we need a commonly agreed roadmap for European space research and development. That roadmap needs to be a common endeavour incorporating EU and ESA funding and even Member State activities. It should be formally agreed between the EU and ESA under a joint EU / ESA Space Council. And we should always remember that there is not always a neat overlap between members of the EU and members of ESA.

The second big improvement we need to make is in promoting downstream applications. We have to make better use of satellite innovations and show that space can make a real difference to so many different sectors. I continue to badger my colleagues in Government to visit Harwell, the UK’s growing space innovation cluster, and see the potential for themselves. I am delighted that downstream applications will be supported under Horizon 2020, which I will be launching this Friday in the UK.

In the UK we are already working hard to raise awareness of the value of satellite data in a huge range of everyday activities that might not have been previously associated with space. Airports can stay open in bad weather. Fishing boats can be tracked to put a stop to illegal fishing. Broadband services can be brought to remote areas via satellite. Fully automated combine harvesters can monitor precisely which parts of the field are producing the most crop. Driverless vehicles are excitingly near. I push to the limit the tolerance of my fellow ministers in Government by asking: “Have you thought of how space can help solve your problem?” But that is a question all our governments and companies should be asking more.

However, it can be particularly frustrating if these space applications are hindered by European regulation and so my third request of the Commission, is to remove barriers to innovation in space.

For instance, the EU specifications for the European Rail Traffic Management System do not currently include requirements to use space-based technologies, including systems such as Galileo. The UK is about to build a new high speed train line, HS 2, and if we follow EU standards it won’t have signalling that uses Galileo. What a missed opportunity.

Similarly the Commission’s e-Call proposal could deliver a transformation in new cars, enabling connected vehicles that can communicate with each other and increase capacity on our busy roads. The UK has real doubts about the merits of e-Call but it if it does go ahead it must be in a way that allows maximum use of Galileo for cars. Without this sort of joined up thinking we will fail to exploit fully one of Europe’s most important recent investments in space.

The Commission is also considering a new directive regulating sale and transfer of high resolution space data. Evidence supporting such a move is very weak. There is a real danger that this new EU law could badly affect growing European space companies, and even force them out of Europe. I would strongly question whether we need this new layer of regulation. We must avoid the unhelpful situation of European countries having regulations in place where other competitors across the globe do not.

Meanwhile space tourism and commercial space are now just over the horizon. But as Sir Richard Branson pointed out at the London Space Solutions Conference, he invests where conditions are best for business – and he couldn’t operate Virgin Galactic in Europe. This is also a major problem for Reaction Engine’s Skylon space plane, which will use the SABRE engine I mentioned earlier. We are delighted that the Commission is considering how the law might be changed to remove these obstacles. We are also conducting our own review in Britain, with results to be published later this year. And the UK has a firm ambition to have a commercial spaceport in operation by 2018 to take advantage of the exciting opportunities that will soon open up.

Europe should not simply support today’s technologies. It must also have a plan for embracing disruptive new technologies to secure our role in their global future.

Finally, there is a very significant international collaboration in which many member states have participated and from which Britain has traditionally remained detached. We felt that the financial risks of participation were simply too great. I should say that I am not talking about the Euro! I am of course referring to the International Space Station.

Our stance on the International Space Station was part of a very distinctive British model in space. It meant no launchers and no astronauts, but excellence in small satellites and a lean national space agency which acts as a convener for industry, as well as promoting space research and developing key technologies. Now we are investing in an incredibly exciting next-generation launch vehicle. And we have invested in the International Space Station, with Major Tim Peake assigned to a six month mission on the Station in 2015. He will be the first British astronaut in Space for more than twenty years. The UK has made a strong investment in ESA, focusing on projects with clear benefits such as commercial telecommunications, and the new centre at Harwell near Oxford, named after Roy Gibson, the first Director General of ESA.

And in December last year my colleague, the Chancellor, announced an £80m fund for bilateral space cooperation in emerging markets. This will enable the UK Space Agency to develop projects in countries where we know there is a demand for space infrastructure and services.

This is a new era for UK space. We have reappraised things and we are forging ahead with confidence. We have ambition but we know that we need to cooperate with other countries to achieve our vision. In this anniversary year, this is the spirit in which Europe must now embrace its future in space.

– Rt Hon David Willetts MP

Let me know your comments here:

Last Day to Apply for Space Generation Congress!


Please note there is just one more day left to apply to the 12th edition of the Space Generation Congress, that will be held in Beijing, China, from the 19th till 21st September, 2013.

Apply here: www.spacegenerationcongress.org

In addition, on the 22nd September, two of the SGAC Project Groups are organising the workshop “The role of GNSS and Earth Observation in Disaster Management”. It is only 35 euros!! Apply today here http://spacegeneration.org/index.php/eventstopics/sgc?id=825