Space: the final frontier for Bradford’s young minds

After a journey lasting nearly a month and covering 238,900 miles, Chang’e-4 finally made history last week. The Chinese probe became the first robotic spacecraft to touch down on the far side of the moon, the unexplored side of the astronomical body. It’s cosmic, really, when you think about it. The successful landing represents “a huge stride” for China, according to the republic’s lunar exploration chief, echoing the US astronaut Neil Armstrong’s famous words. It also signals China’s ambitions for the 21st century and its growing significance in the world.

For me, it highlights three issues: first, the power of science to inspire us to think beyond our immediate surroundings; second, the need to build and grow links with China as the emerging superpower; and third, the importance of aspiration and setting big goals.

Space truly is the final frontier and this was brought home to me when Bradford’s National Science and Media Museum hosted the spacecraft that took UK astronaut Tim Peake to and from the International Space Station. Mr Peake, who became the first Briton to walk in space, said he hoped the Soyuz TMA-19M would serve as “an inspiration for our next generation of scientists and engineers”. Students from University Academy Keighley were among those to see the spacecraft, which still bears the scorch marks from its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, and learn about Mr Peake’s sixth-month mission to space and find out about the careers in the fast-growing UK space industry. One day perhaps they might be the ones boldly going where no man – or woman – has gone before.

There will certainly be plenty of opportunities; in Yorkshire alone, nearly 40 organisations are engaged in space-related activities. Academics at Bradford University are doing pioneering research into space weather using machine learning and predictive technologies to extract knowledge from solar archives. Far out!

China’s multi-billion space dream – it plans to build a new space station, establish a base on the Moon and carry out missions to Mars – is part of its “national rejuvenation”, according to Chinese state media. To me, it shows the republic is increasingly a force to be reckoned with and one that our district economy needs to be wired into. As a globally connected district, we are making strong progress on that front and towards the end of last year, representatives from Bradford Council and Bradford University joined a trade and investment mission from the Leeds City Region to China, with the aim of creating stronger links in film production, education and tourism.

The week-long visit took in Qingdao, Hangzhou and Hong Kong and promoted our district’s products and services to these vast marketplaces. During the trip, Bradford Council signed a memorandum of understanding to advance cooperation in the fields of economy and trade, creative and innovation industries, technology, culture and education.

Bradford and Qingdao already enjoy good relations and in 2017 Bradford UNESCO City of Film opened an office in Qingdao to foster co-production opportunities between the two cities, which both have burgeoning film industries. Qingdao has China’s largest state-of-the-art film production studio complex, owned by Wanda Studio, and Bradford is becoming the go-to location for a growing number of national and international filmmakers. (Every time I go by City Hall these days they seem to be filming a new episode of Peaky Blinders.)

Qingdao is also home to the Tsingtao, the nation’s second largest brewery company. I was chuffed to learn that our representatives were flying the flag for Saltaire Brewery, which I’m told went down very well in what is known as China’s city of beers. Cheers!

As well as being a huge market for beer, China also represents a huge market for healthcare. To that end, Bradford University has teamed up with a Chinese technology transfer company, iBridge, to establish a new programme that will enable UK technology teams to attract investment and accelerate the launch of their healthcare technologies and products into China. The potential is enormous. According to the latest research by McKinsey consultants, the Chinese healthcare market is set to reach an eye-watering $1 trillion by 2020, up from $357bn in 2011.

The numbers involved in healthcare and other Chinese markets are just incredible, which is why we need to be putting maximum effort into developing these business relationships. As the Chinese have demonstrated with the Chang’e-4 spacecraft and its achievement in the wide blue yonder, if you want to make your mark, you have got to be ambitious. Shoot for the moon. 

• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club.

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