Low orbit satellites and telecommunications development central to the ambitions – but was a government press release slightly misleading?
UKspace, the trade association for the UK’s space industry, has published an ambitious growth plan for the sector that aims to double the worth of space industrial activities across the economy from £250 billion to £500 billion.
The “Prosperity from Space” report highlights increasing international competition and laments “the absence of a joined up, UK-focused, long-term national programme that allows us to unlock the full potential of our industrial-academic powerbase.”
The decision to leave the EU creates particular need to “raise our game and avoid complacency” the report emphasises, saying UK Space needs to nearly double its workforce, adding a further 30,000 to the 38,000 already employed in the sector.
The report recommends focussing UK national effort on four prioritised market verticals, all of which if doubling in size would have significant impact on the sectors Computer Business Review widely covers.
- Earth Information Services, a market UK Space anticipates to be worth £20 billlion in coming years, with an emphasis on “real-time global awareness, navigation, analytics and security for the advanced data economy.
- Connectivity Services, loosely described by the association as “delivering broadband and 5G for everyone – at home and on the move, on the road, in the air or at sea, anywhere around the globe”. The emphasis appears to be on low orbit satellites.
- In Space Robotics, including new appliocations for science, enterprise and consumers and
- Low Cost Access to Space, maximising the value of the UK’s spaceports and
launch from the UK, a £10 billion forecast market, making the UK a home for low-cost launch services and developing platform technologies to promote even lower cost access to space”
Lipservice or a Real Push?
A press release championing the UK Space report was put out by the UK Space Agency alongside the Department for International Trade, and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – suggesting political support for the move.
But the UK’s actual commitment to a sustained investment from the Treasury could be questioned. Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Sam Gyimah stated in the announcement: ‘’We want the UK to thrive in the commercial space age and have committed £150 million in our Industrial Strategy to help develop advanced rocket engines.’’
Of this figures, Computer Business Review determined that only £50 million was previously unannounced; something confirmed in a call to his department.
His office told us: “We will support this, subject to business case through a £50 million programme to enable new satellite launch services and low gravity spaceflights from UK spaceports, building on £99 million that we are already investing to build the National Satellite Test Facility.’’
The government, instead, aims to stimulate up to £1 billion of private investment in UK space infrastructure through “smart Government procurement”, generating an additional £5 billion in export revenues from a “Space is Great” export campaign, it said.
Will that be enough? UKspace is clear about what’s needed: “Space is an R&D intensive sector that requires co-investment from Government. There are some elements of this strategy that only government can deliver such as creating the innovative regulatory environment needed for all-new activities in space, or being the ‘anchor-customer’ of services to incentivise investment in infrastructure.”
Big Space, Big Money
The UK’s space sector was valued at £13.7 billion in 2015 and is estimated to a have 6.5 percent share of the global space market, one that is dominated by Russia, China, India and America.
The benefit of Space industrial technology to the wider business community is evident in its use to provide analysis or solutions on earth.
Mappair, designed by UK company Earth Sense, for example has created, using satellite data, a HD map of air pollution in the UK. British space industrial companies’ draw investment from outside of the UK not just via EU funding but from companies such as Boeing who have recently invested in Oxfordshire based Reaction Engines who are working on the next generation of hypersonic flight and orbital space craft.
UK Space Punches Above Its Weight
The UK’s space sector meanwhile continues to punch above its weight. Airbus provides 25% of the planet’s telecommunications satellites and leads some of the most complex science and exploration missions in the world. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), the pioneer that ‘changed the economics of space’ is building 22 payloads for the Galileo navigation service, with 12 more on the way.
Meanwhile, Guildford-based Earth-i is developing Europe’s first video from space service, offering high definition video data and insight to customers in logistics, finance, resource management and other knowledge intensive sectors. In Scotland, ÅAC Clyde (formerly ClydeSpace) has become the number one supplier of shoebox sized ‘cube sats’ and even sells some of its technology online.
“The emergence of a new breed of highly ambitious, privately funded operator is creating an inflection point for the entire sector. Our highly evolved and innovative space ecosystem is attracting many of them to the UK, where they will co-exist with established key-players such as Inmarsat, Avanti and Thales Alenia Space-UK,” the report notes.
It adds: “One of these is OneWeb, a global telecommunications company, based in London, building a network of 900 low Earth orbit satellites to provide low latency, high speed, affordable broadband. Others include Effective Space Solutions for logistics and satellite servicing in orbit and Astroscale for satellite and debris removal. Also moving here is Orbital Micro Systems, relocating from Colorado to the fast-growing space-cluster at Harwell, Oxfordshire.”