02/06/2014

By Andrew German, Lead Space Specialist at the Technology Strategy Board

As the recent UK Space and Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014-2030 noted, “space is an extraordinary business”. It is a unique industry that can enable communications, entertainment, and scientific endeavour virtually anywhere around the world, not to mention in outer space. It is a vehicle for innovation by our top engineers and can inspire the next generation to become involved in science and help tackle some of the greatest challenges of modern times.

What some people may not realise however, is that the UK is a leading light in the sector and already achieved a total space related turnover of £9.1billion in 2010/11. When you include the wider activity generated by the industry an additional £8.2billion was also contributed to UK GDP. Moreover, by taking into account the broader activity of the sector the total UK-based employment supported by the UK space industry was estimated to be 101,200 in 2010/11.

There is therefore great potential to build on these firm foundations and secure the UK’s position at the top table of the space sector for years to come. This is why Government action in partnership with organisations like the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is so crucial in developing the much needed breadth and depth of the UK’s capabilities. For example, the TSB ran a funding competition last year known as the Harwell Space Launchpad that provided targeted financing for innovative R&D being carried out by Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in the sector. £1million is being invested by the TSB in this programme that sees the companies involved also raise matched funding from other sources such as venture capitalists.

The winners of last year’s competition demonstrate the wide range of businesses involved in the sector and the applicability of their technology beyond what one may traditionally think of as the space sector. For example, Magellium is a fast growing SME that is utilising cutting edge satellite imaging to enable remote monitoring in agriculture. Meanwhile, Oxford Space Systems is developing lighter, less complex and lower cost satellite structures that answer the key demands of the sector.

Both the success of this competition and the rising demand from the sector has led to the TSB launching a second Space Launchpad that is now looking for entrants for up to £1million of funding. This is an example of the determination by all those involved in the sector, such as the TSB, as well as the Science and Technology Funding Council and UK Space Agency, to maintain the industry’s momentum and ensure the target of raising the UK’s share of the global space market to £19 billion by 2020 and £40billion by 2030 is met with ease.