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Space-inspired tech could support hospital of the future

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The UK Space Agency has announced a multi-million-pound drive to design a hospital incorporating space technology, in an effort to enhance patient care and ease pressure on NHS staff.

The agency, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), has challenged British tech companies to devise innovative solutions for the proposed new hospital which will serve the people of Hampshire in southeast England, and expect it to be the first of a series of “space-enabled” hospitals. Up to £5m of funding is available for the initiative.

According to the agencies, the hospital presents the opportunity to showcase how space-enabled solutions can enhance healthcare. Potential applications could include new diagnostic tools to speed up diagnosis and treatment, logistics solutions for keeping track of medical supplies, and telemedicine devices that enable medics to care for patients remotely. The facility could even incorporate technologies pioneered on missions to the International Space Station.

“The UK is a world leader in using space technology and data to tackle the challenges we face on Earth, and this initiative is another example of how one of our most thriving sectors is driving improvements in everyday life,” said UK science minister Amanda Solloway. “As we build back better from the pandemic, I am confident that UK businesses large and small will come forward to produce some truly awe-inspiring ideas to help design this space-age hospital, support our heroic NHS staff and ultimately save lives.”   

With the support of both space agencies, British companies have already developed numerous space-enabled medical applications that could help to inspire the hospital’s technologies. These include several projects designed to support a coronavirus-hit NHS, such as a fleet of drones that will ferry much-needed medical supplies – including Covid-19 test kits and PPE – between hospitals, freeing up NHS staff, and reducing unnecessary physical contact.

The agencies said a panel of experts will evaluate the space-connected proposals based on their potential to benefit hospital services and the surrounding community. Selected applicants will then receive the business and technical support needed to develop their ideas before they put the technologies to use.

“As demonstrated by the many satellite-enabled solutions developed to support the coronavirus response, space has a crucial role in addressing healthcare challenges that face society,” said Elodie Viau, director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA. “Working with the UK Space Agency and Hampshire Together, ESA is proud to continue to foster healthcare innovation by helping UK digital industries develop technologies designed to enhance healthcare and improve lives.”

Arnaud Runge, a medical engineer at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre, said: “In the past but also more recently throughout the Covid-19 crisis, the use of space technologies and satellite data has proven to be an essential driver for innovation in the healthcare sector to address existing and new challenges.”

Runge added that ESA is delighted to extend its collaboration with the UK Space Agency and the NHS “in this exciting initiative and demonstrate how space can contribute today to shape the hospital of tomorrow”.