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How investment has made the UK a world leader in space industries

How investment has made the UK a world leader in space industries

This week, Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science, laid out the Government’s ambitious plans for the UK space sector in 2018. Launching the second round of the SatelLife Challenge – a competition which looks for innovative data related proposals from 11 to 22 year-olds – he spoke about the importance of satellites in shaping society and our economy.

He explained that through the Industrial Strategy, the Government wants to build on the UK’s strengths “while growing our share of the global space market”. 

He said: “The cost and size of satellites is falling. And the data they provide is shaping our daily lives and the economy. The UK space industry is well placed to take advantage of this and is growing rapidly by around 8% each year, sustaining almost 40,000 jobs.” 

Mr Johnson also highlighted the important role that young people have in the Government’s ambition to increasing that share to 10% by 2030.

He said: “We need to ensure the potential benefits of space are felt across the whole economy and encourage young British entrepreneurs to develop ideas that rival the best in the world.” The SatelLife Challenge gives young people the chance to share £50,000 of funding to help develop their ideas. 

In 2017, proposals ranged from GPS trackers in fitness devices that help increase the survival rate of heart attack victims to an app that warns people about impending natural disasters. The competition awards prizes of £7,500 and £5,000 across the various age groups.

One of the UK’s best performing sectors

Statistics released in 2017 by London Economics show that the UK space sector has enjoyed an average annual growth of 8.8% per year since 2000. Satellites4Everyone report that the space industry employs 38,500 people in the UK, with more than a quarter of those people based in London.

The industry is estimated to be worth between £11.8 billion and £13.7 billion annually, marking it out as one of the UK’s most valuable sectors. While much of this growth can be attributed to the boom in the global space industry as well as the commercialisation of space travel, continued investment from the Government has also played a significant part. The Government has committed to growing an industry in the UK worth £40 billion by 2030.

Last year, almost £50 million of government funding was provided to enable satellite launch services to take place from the UK for the first time ever. The Government is also working to put new laws into place to make this possible and to help to make the UK a world leading centre for the space industry. 

Science and innovation are integral to the Government’s Industrial Strategy and in recent years the sector has received massive investment. Back in 2012, the Government announced a £1.2 billion package to invest in the European space projects.

Since then, the UK has invested around £240 million a year in a number of projects from satellite communications and Mars rovers to nuclear space batteries and weather satellites. In 2014, the Government announced an additional £200 million investment in Europe’s space programme.

This included £47.7 million of funding to play a leading role in Europe’s Mars mission and to retain leadership of Mars rover development, as well as £49.2 million to help UK researchers access the $100 billion ISS programme. In July last year, the Government further showed their commitment to the UK space industry with the announcement of a new £100m state-of-the-art government-funded satellite facility.

Attracting outward investment to the sector

The National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) will be built on the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire with £99 million of the investment coming from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The announcement coincided with news of another £4 million investment for a new National Space Propulsion Facility at Wescott Venture Park in Buckinghamshire.

The centre will allow UK companies and academia to test and develop space propulsion engines and attract outside investment to the area. Last December, the UK Space Agency, a government funded body responsible for strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme announced £200,000 of funding for four new business incubators.

The incubators will be based in Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Leicestershire and London and will help to increase the number of start-up companies in the space sector across the UK. Graham Turnock, the chief executive officer of the U.K. Space Agency, said that they hope the incubators will attract companies that started elsewhere but then come to the U.K. 

By creating the right conditions and encouraging young people to utilise their skills and knowledge, the UK could well see its share of this exciting and innovative sector grow. With continued investment in people and facilities, the government have clearly demonstrated their confidence in the sector. 

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