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Serco Europe launches space research incubator in Italy

Serco Europe, a leading provider of services to the Space sector, launched a research incubator at its Italian Head Office near Rome in 2020. The Red Lab is a research hub which aims to strengthen Serco’s relationships with universities and research institutes and encourage cooperation in space research and innovation.

Through the Red Lab, Serco is providing research opportunities in the field of Earth Observation – hosting students and young scientists conducting research at Serco sites. The Red Lab launched with partnerships between Serco and Sapienza University and Tor Vergata University Space Science and Technology Master in Rome.

Through these partnerships, Sapienza University students have worked with Serco on snow measurements in central Italy using Copernicus Sentinel-1 data, while students from Tor Vergata University focused on using satellite imagery to improve agriculture monitoring systems. Serco employees have also been invited to participate in Red Lab activities, to foster innovation in their own services and develop their scientific skills.

“The Red Lab is an invaluable opportunity for young researchers and scientists to receive mentoring opportunities and gain industry experience,” said Raffaele Crapolicchio, Serco Red Lab Manager, “and for Serco to proudly contribute to Earth Observation Research and Innovation.

“It is an honour for us to be at the forefront of space research together with representatives from prestigious universities. We have great IT infrastructure and processing capabilities, based on the ONDA DIAS, Serco's ONDA DIAS cloud-based platform, with access to geospatial data, providing ideal conditions for conducting research.”

Following the launch of the Red Lab incubator, three curricular internships completed in 2020 and four more have already commenced. Another three are planned to begin during the first half of 2021. The current cohort are working on a variety of studies and applications based on Earth Observation datasets in the context of existing Serco Contracts, with a focus on innovative technologies.

As a result of this first Red Lab phase, Serco has won a new Contract with the European Space Agency/European Space Research Institute and recruited a student into a full-time role.

Besides the existing partnerships, new cooperation agreements have been signed for 2021: one with another prestigious second level Master in Italy, the Space Missions Science, Design and Applications of Alma Mater Studiorum, the University of Bologna; and the other with the Uninform Group Business School in Rome.

“This is an exciting pilot project that will help strengthen Serco’s scientific capabilities in the field of Earth Observation and support the development of new applications based on satellite data to improve our services,” said Roberto Mulatti, General Manager for Serco Italy.

To date, the Red Lab is actively collaborating with a total of five universities in Italy (Rome, Trieste, Bologna) and negotiations are ongoing with other universities in Italy and Ireland.

“Industry–university collaborations are much needed,” said Francesco Berrilli, Professor at the Tor Vergata University, “and I am very positive about this initiative which opens new avenues for interaction between students and the industry.”

The Red Lab has also been involved in educational activities, including a seminar presented at the Information and Telecommunication Department of Sapienza University in December 2020 on the European Space Agency SMOS (Soil Moisture Ocean Salinity) satellite mission, focusing on the water cycle as a key element for our understanding of weather forecasting and long-term climate change monitoring.

Research calls will be released every year between March and May. Grant opportunities will take the form of curricular internships for university students or young scientists and Serco will also provide grants for PhD students for a duration of three years.