Watch this space
16 April 2019
When is comes to the space sector, while it might be NASA with its Mars Rovers and planet-hunting probes, or Elon Musk’s SpaceX and its Falcon Heavy megarocket that grab the headlines, the contribution made by the UK’s space industry should not be underestimated. Indeed, the sector has seen significant growth in income, exports and employment in recent years, with total income now standing at £14.8 billion.
The sector employs 41,900 people, while exports are worth £5.5 billion. Much of this growth is due to space manufacturing, including satellites, ground systems and components. The UK has significant capabilities in this area, building major parts for one in four of the world’s commercial telecommunications satellites and the wider benefits are considerable.
A recent report carried out by London Economics on behalf of the UK Space Agency has found that every £1 of public spending generates £3-4 in value for the recipients in the space industry, with additional wider spillover benefits to the UK economy.
The demanding environment of space means that investments generate new knowledge and innovations that extend far beyond the space industry. For example, satellites provide services that enable a wide range of economic activities, supporting industries worth £300b to the UK.
The “Spillovers in the space sector report” looks at programmes such as ExoMars, a mission to search for life on Mars, with the UK leading the build of the ‘Rosalind Franklin’ Mars rover. The project developed advanced welding techniques that are now being used to manufacture aluminium cans, saving 12% on raw materials, or £100m in total.
Potential spilllovers include the development of buggies for airport transport which could contribute £10m to UK GDP and navigation sensors in areas with no access to satellite positioning and navigation technologies, which could contribute £7.2m to UK GDP.
Less positive though is the effect that Brexit could have on the UK’s space industry, as explored in a new report from The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS), “What Brexit Means for UK Space Leadership”.
“Brexit will almost certainly create an inflection point for the UK space sector,” said Jamie Morin, executive director of CSPS. “In the aftermath of the referendum, the British government has reviewed its activities in space, and the process has moved entities such as the UK Space Agency and the Ministry of Defence to coordinate more tightly than they have in the past. Regardless of Brexit’s outcome, the UK can take considered, deliberate steps that benefit its space sector, including expanding the capacity of its space agency.”
We can but hope.