Industry pushes for UK space programme ahead of Brexit

Britain’s space industry is calling for a national space programme and targeted public procurement to help overcome the challenges of the UK’s exit from the EU and spur £1bn in private investment over the next decade.

The call comes as the UK is locked in a dispute over participation in the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system after Brussels proposed banning British companies from sensitive parts of the project.

The Space Growth Partnership, which brings together industry, academia and policymakers, called for the programme in a new document, entitled Prosperity from Space.

The SGP highlights the need for continued participation in European space projects to drive growth, and calls for an enhancement of the UK’s relationship with the European Space Agency, while maintaining “at least the current level of investment”.

The UK’s national space budget is small, compared with those of European peers such as France, Germany and Italy, and the SGP called for stronger collaboration with industry to ensure growth.

“The decision to leave the EU creates [a] particular need to raise our game and avoid complacency,” the document states. It warns that the UK must “address the faultlines running through our current way of working, chief of which is the absence of a joined up, UK-focused long-term national programme that allows us to unlock the full potential of our industrial-academic power base.”

The document will form the basis of discussions for a so-called “sector deal” — partnerships between government and industry to reduce barriers to growth and boost productivity, employment, innovation and skills.

It is the successor to the Innovation and Growth Strategy proposed in 2010, which resulted in the creation of the UK Space Agency that year, followed by the launch in 2012 of the Space Applications Catapult, an accelerator for commercialising the use of data gathered from satellites, and the issue of the UK’s first national space policy in 2015.

That strategy also set the UK’s target to reach 10 per cent of the global space market by 2030, or £40bn. In 2016, the UK space industry accounted for about £13.7bn in revenues.

Industry is now proposing that new targets be set and met through partnership with government. These include doubling the value of industrial activities supported by satellite services to £500bn, giving the UK Space Agency the procurement power to develop a national capability for producing and using information collected from space to benefit UK businesses and government, generating £5bn in new exports with government backed export campaign; and aiming for a £3bn benefit from increased research, science and innovation.

The SGP has identified emerging market opportunities open to the UK valued at more than £75bn. National efforts should be focused on four areas — earth information services, connectivity, in-space robotics and low cost launch services — as well as developing an internationally competitive regulatory regime.

“Industry believes that opportunities arising from potential smart government procurement and a national space programme would allow industry to invest more than £1bn,” the document concludes.

Although the proposals have not yet received the formal backing of government, Sam Gyimah, UK science minister, signalled initial support.

“We want the UK to thrive in the commercial space age and have committed £150m in our Industrial Strategy to help develop advanced rocket engines, test satellites and establish spaceports in the UK for the first time,” he said.

“Government will continue to work closely with the space sector to build on our significant capability and maximise the benefits of space to life on Earth, creating jobs and opportunities across the country,” Mr Gyimah added.

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