Monday, 15 July 2024

Shaping the future

Clive Simpson reports from the Inmarsat conference centre in London where British space industry representatives gathered this week as the government released two policies that will shape the future of the UK’s growing space industry.

Space is set to become one of the country’s flagship industries contributing more than £40 billion a year to the economy under government backed plans that would increase business to four times its present level by the year 2030.

A range of new policy announcements include developing the necessary legal framework to set up a UK spaceport that would allow space tourism companies to start operating services from Britain.

Licensing regulations will also be simplified and there will be greater efforts on exports, inward investment and incentives to spur the creation of new space firms in different regions.

The government made the announcements to industry leaders gathered on Wednesday at the London headquarters of Inmarsat, one of the UK’s most successful space companies.

They come in response to detailed space industry reports – the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy (IGS) Action Plan and the National Space Security Policy (NSSP) – published at the end of last year.

David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, said the country’s thriving space industry had the potential to “propel” UK growth from its current position of supporting 95,000 full time jobs and generating £9.1 billion for the economy a year.

“Our response shows commitment to secure its future growth and realise ambitions to develop a viable UK space port for commercial spaceflight,” he said.

In addition to stronger support for export and agreeing further work to improve regulatory frameworks for space activity, there will be measures to create and sustain new business in related markets, including the development of a regional SME community spread across the UK.

Changes to the Outer Space Act limit on third party liability will improve the UK space sector’s international competitiveness and the UK Space Agency (UKSA) will review Britain’s approach to the regulation of cubesats and other small satellites, in which companies like SSTL are world leaders.

Agency managers will also simplify the process of obtaining satellite licenses, including working with Ofcom to see if a commitment to a swifter and more seamless process could be delivered, as well as reviewing the economic cost of delivering the space licensing regime and fees.

Willets added that the government would continue working to deliver a regulatory environment that promotes enterprise and inward investment in the UK.

This July UKSA will issue the first results from a cross-government National Space Flight Coordination Group set up to take forward the ambition of developing a UK space port and starting commercial spaceflight from the UK.

UKSA will double the funding level of the UK Space for Smarter Government Programme annually from April 2014, which will unlock the potential of space to make the delivery of public sector services more effective and efficient.

The National Space Security Policy sets out a coherent approach to the UK’s space security interests.

It outlines measures to make the country more resilient to the risk of disruption to space services and capabilities, enhance national security interests through space, promote a safe and more secure space environment, and enable industry and academia to exploit science and grasp commercial opportunities.

Philip Dunne MP, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, said: “This policy is about galvanising our skills, resources and our raw talent to promote resilience to the risks of operating in space – in both the civilian and military spheres.”

Early priorities will include mapping UK dependency on space across government, critical infrastructure and key industrial sectors and assessing the extent of resilience in each of these fields.

There will also be collaboration across government and with national and international partners to share capability where it is possible to do so, particularly in the fields of tracking space debris and near Earth objects.

UKSA chief executive Dr David Parker said the government was working “shoulder-to-shoulder” with industry to exploit the full potential of the space sector to grow the economy, deliver more efficient public services and inspire the next generation.

“At UKSA we are particularly focusing on helping the rest of government make best use of the huge increase in real-time data from the Galileo and Sentinel satellites, looking at exciting opportunities such as a UK spaceport, and leading an export drive for UK space products and services,” he stated.

“Our vision is to make the UK the most attractive location for space businesses to set up and prosper – and I’m convinced we are on our way.”

SSTL chief executive Dr Matt Perkins, who is also chair of the space trade association Ukspace, described the space sector as having “huge potential”.

“I believe the strong government endorsement of this strategy provides a pathway to achieving increased economic benefit for the UK as well as growth for companies like SSTL,” he said.

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