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Data that's from out of this world

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GSE member Sara Huntingdon details how photocopiers first inspired her to pursue a career at the UK Space Agency (UKSA) where she now leads a project on using satellites to improve public services.

Twenty years ago, I got very excited about photocopiers!

When I was studying physics at Loughborough University, after endless conceptual theories and equations, we finally did a case study on photocopiers. A practical application which put that theory into action; I was strangely enthused and I wanted to share this revelation with the world.

My sociologist housemate was somewhat less inspired. After I passionately explained in great detail how it worked, she said “Sara, that’s great …but I don’t actually care”. She knew photocopiers existed, they worked and she accessed one via the reprographics service on demand, she had no interest at all in the wonders of photonics, electrostatics or ionised ink!

This was a genuine surprise, I was taken aback but on reflection, I learnt some valuable lessons about differing stakeholder needs and communicating about technology that day. I also realised I needed to transfer onto the engineering physics course instead of just plain physics.

Algal Bloom in Baltic Sea taken by ESA Sentinel-2A Satellite
Photo of Algal Bloom in Baltic Sea taken by ESA Sentinel-2A Satellite Licence: Creative Commons Attribution Copernicus Sentinel data (2015)/ESA

Lift off!

So 20 years on from understanding how a photocopier worked and by changing my studies to the more practical engineering physics, I am now the Manager of the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP).

SSGP was set up to help the public sector deliver more efficiently and effectively using data and services enabled by space technology.

Satellites are incredible pieces of engineering in their own right, but what inspires me and many of those who are already using them, are what these systems enable you to do, particularly when combined with other data sources and applied to meet a real life need.

SSGP have worked with civil servants and industry to build a portfolio of application case studies. These showcase what space data and services can do to meet public sector challenges. These applications cover a range of diverse topics:

  • Environmental monitoring e.g. air quality, marine monitoring.
  • Natural hazards risk management e.g. coastal and urban flooding.
  • Local services e.g. more efficient waste collection services, connecting remote medical screening vehicles.
Radar Image of London taken by ESA Sentinel-1A Satellite
Radar Image of London taken by ESA Sentinel-1A Satellite Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Copernicus data/ESA (2015)

To infinity and beyond

As the space sector continues to grow, satellite enabled applications and availability of data is only going to increase which could really make a difference in all aspects of public sector delivery.

If you want to find out what SSGP can do for you, whatever your background, further information can be found on our website , and you can follow us on Twitter @SSGP_UK or email us at

If you’re a GSE member and would like to write a post for our blog detailing your work, experiences, and stories or are holding an event for members, then email

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