UK MEMS Space workshop: knowledge transfer from ground to Space 3 November 2011 International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC): Oxford Harwell

Microelectronics International

ISSN: 1356-5362

Article publication date: 4 May 2012



(2012), "UK MEMS Space workshop: knowledge transfer from ground to Space 3 November 2011 International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC): Oxford Harwell", Microelectronics International, Vol. 29 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

UK MEMS Space workshop: knowledge transfer from ground to Space 3 November 2011 International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC): Oxford Harwell

Article Type: Exhibitions and conferences From: Microelectronics International, Volume 29, Issue 2


Micro ElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) are becoming increasingly common in engineered products. These products cover a vast array of markets, from automotive safety to consumer gaming electronics. Their use in space based products, however, has been limited. Following a number of meetings between STFC, industry and the European Space Agency (ESA) a workshop was proposed to explore the reasons why their use is inhibited, to suggest mechanisms to address these reasons and to bring together a network of industrial, academic and space professionals.

Goals and vision

Formally, the meeting, run by STFC and hosted by ISIC, sought to “harness the full capability of UK MEMS partners to the benefit of space both within UK and Europe”. This would be achieved through the following goals:

  • Awareness. To engage with stakeholders within the academic, industrial and space environments and promote technological and application awareness within MEMS.

  • Landscape. To engage with major Space stakeholders and understand their key strategic landscape (specific relevance to MEMS).

  • Exemplars. To review the existing progress in MEMS technology transfer and appreciate the merits and of such a system.

  • Barriers. To discuss and identify the barriers to technology transfer of MEMS to space (or vice versa) and suggest mechanisms to overcome these barriers.

  • Framework. To discuss and outline the additional elements required for successful transfer including technologies and business environment.

  • Applications. To identify a small number of key space applications of MEMS and to outline the most appropriate MEMS technologies for these applications.

  • Demonstrators. To establish a number of demonstration projects from this activity and ascertain both the project plans and the most appropriate transfer/innovation funding routes.

Meeting report

The meeting was held on 3 November 2011 within the ISIC building on the Harwell Oxford site. The agenda comprised three main sessions:

  1. 1.

    a set of “overview” talks to introduce the technology, the organisations involved in the initiative and the landscapes of these organisations;

  2. 2.

    a set of “exemplar” presentations, primarily from industrial partners, which served to highlight where such transfers had been successful; and

  3. 3.

    a breakout session, followed by a feedback session, to discuss the barriers to progress and the way forward.

In total there were 44 attendees, from 22 companies, seven universities, STFC and ESA. The talks from the day are available at:

Key points

Whilst there was intrinsic benefit in bringing together the diverse groups invited in order to promote networking and collaborations, there were also a number of key points identified from the day. These are:

  • Volumes. A key challenge in transferring technologies in this area is the discontinuity of volumes. Industrial MEMS are almost exclusively developed for volume markets and as such the NRE costs can be managed. Within Space, even if technologies are deployed in industrial space activities such as communication satellites, volumes are orders of magnitude lower and as such, NRE customisation costs become unsustainable.

  • Diversity. MEMS is an extremely diverse technology, especially when considered with the integral supporting technologies. The benefits of MEMS in Space can ONLY be realised if the integral supporting technologies are also included in any mechanisms for development/deployment.

  • Qualification. The lack of a clear mechanism for qualification of MEMS (and supporting technologies) introduces an unbounded risk for many commercial organisations looking to exploit MEMS into Space.

  • Consultation. The lack of availability of key consultants who had sufficient knowledge and experience of MEMS technologies, ESA, space and industry, further increase the risk and challenge to transferring technologies.

  • Collaboration. The majority of successful transfers have involved a collaboration of many parties, including academic and ESA partners. Any formalised process would have to include private, public and international partners.

  • Existing programmes. Initiatives exist within ESA already for a number of areas where MEMS appear to offer elegant solutions. There are, however, still many areas where solutions are still elusive and indeed a number where there is little activity.

  • Funding. There is limited clarity on how to fund the transfer of technologies into space programmes. Testing and evaluation of commercial MEMS and supporting technologies is key to their affordable exploitation.

  • Intellectual property. With many multi-party collaborations bringing many diverse elements of MEMS and supporting technologies to a programme, the IP proposal needs to be easy and straightforward. A detailed and protracted IP negotiation only serves to strongly inhibit transfer.


From the meeting a number of directions were suggested. These and others highlighted after the meeting are outlined below.


  • Network. The workshop certainly demonstrated a need and an enthusiasm for relevant parties to meet discuss and consider the issues of MEMS in Space and industry. The event, by no means, fully clarified all these issues and it was felt that further meetings and potentially even a regular network would be of benefit. This may even extend to a specific European network. TSB and the knowledge transfer networks (esp. AeroKTN with its Space Special Interest Group and the NanoKTN) already provide networking opportunities and STFC along with ISIC and UKSA should work with these to define and plan future meetings. Initially interested parties within STFC (e.g. RAL Space) need to be identified.

  • Consultancy. It was clear that the economic opportunity for businesses to transfer MEMS technology into Space is severely hampered by ill defined technical risks. The existence of a consultancy which has expertise in both MEMS technologies and Space would mitigate some of these risks. Whilst this may only require two or three people with good links into the academic sector, the Harwell Oxford environment is probably a highly suitable location for this activity. STFC to explore and then propose how such a consultancy may be constructed and funded.

  • Qualification. In order to further ease the transition of MEMS from commercial applications into space, a clear qualification route is necessary. ESA have identified a large number of generic MEMS types and qualification routes will need to be explored, proposed and ratified. Some years ago, qualification was also seen by NASA as a critical issue (see, for example: “MEMS Reliability Assurance Guidelines for Space Applications”, Brian Stark, ed.) It is proposed that interested teams seek to identify a small number of these MEMS areas and then works with ESA/ESTEC and UK university professionals to develop these standards.

  • Marketing. Clearly marketing needs to be explored in more detail to identify key applications, customers and providers. This, in turn, will define specific areas where additional R&D that is required. It is proposed that a small “multi-organisation” team is established in the short-term to investigate the market and ascertain how any required funding could best be arranged for the additional R&D. Note that there is already a TSB call in this area (Space for growth, see: which specifically includes MEMS.

  • Roadmapping. UK Space Technology is presently undergoing a “Roadmapping” exercise to outline key technologies for the future. (workshop on 15 December, Guildford – Eike Kircher, Head of ESA’s Technology Research Programme will be present) Members of the MEMS community should be involved to ensure that MEMS is included in the updated roadmap. Qualification should be a key item in the MEMS subset and further work on this, as outlined above, should be encouraged. In advance of drawing together the aforementioned qualification consortia, a clear analysis of MEMS capabilities, stakeholder interest and staff availability must be executed. Essentially there is a “precursor” body of work before the qualification activity can be fully initiated.


  1. 1.

    Key technologies (Telecoms). For exploitation within the telecommunications marketplace, the key MEMS technologies that the UK should concentrate upon are (in priority order):

    • RF MEMS.

    • High efficiency power conversion MEMS.

    • MEMS microfluidics and system level cooling.

    • MEMS based adaptive optics.

    • Frequency selective surfaces.

    • Propellant propulsion controls.

  2. 2.

    Key technologies (sensing). Similarly for exploitation within the sensors marketplace, the following MEMS technologies were highlighted:

    • EM sensing.

    • Gas sensors.

    • Fuel sensing.

    • Better inertial sensing.

    • IR detection.

    • Imaging sensors.

  3. 3.

    Analysis. It is crucial that the specific merits and challenges of each of the above are assessed, both technically and commercially. Lead/potential players should also be identified. These activities should be executed by a small grouping of key stakeholders including UKSA, STFC, industry and academia.

STFC December 2011

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