By August 29, 2019 Read More →

Government commitment to embrace the new space age

In his speech at Policy Exchange, science minister Chris Skidmore highlighted the Government’s commitment to the UK space industry, outlining the importance of the sector to the broader UK economy. He also added detail to a number of Government propositions – including the National Space Council and the National Space Framework, and spoke on the Government’s ambitions for the sector.

He we provide a full account of the relevant sections of his speech talking about the strength of UK space industry:

Fast growing industry

As Space Minister I’ve been quickly aware of the strength of our own remarkable space industry. It has tripled in size since 2000, becoming one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy. It employs close to 42,000 people throughout the UK, has an income of almost £15 billion, and, through the use of our satellite services, supports an estimated further £300 billion of economic activity.

I want the UK’s efforts in space to continue to grow, and for us to play our fullest role in exploring the solar system and understanding the universe. But this isn’t just about looking outwards at the universe, by going to Mars or hosting the headquarters of the Square Kilometer Array right here in Britain at Jodrell Bank.

Most pressingly, I believe that our efforts in space will help to preserve life right here on Earth. Through measuring the temperature of oceans, to monitoring changes to biodiversity and the extent of deforestation, satellite technology today is enabling us to observe the very real-time changes happening right here on Planet Earth.

And the UK has significant capabilities in satellite Earth Observation, including through our membership of Copernicus, which I want to see continue. These capabilities range from radar remote-sensing through to ultraviolet analysis of the physical, chemical and biological systems here and also to observe how these are changing.

These capabilities are pushing the frontiers of environmental science. And as humanity’s impact on the world becomes ever more dramatic, gathering evidence from space becomes an increasingly pressing challenge.

Earth observation, I believe, is therefore an essential green technology, vital for monitoring our changing planet and informing the decisive action we need to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And this is a phenomenal economic opportunity for the UK also – the Earth observation sector is growing rapidly, currently supporting around £92 billion of economic activity. I want to see this progress continue as we continue to work to tackle climate change and deliver green growth.

And this work really shows that the UK must continue to be one of the leaders of this new space age – a space age that isn’t rooted in Cold War rivalry, but in communication, in collaboration and in commercialisation; a space age which recognises the pivotal role that space will have in delivering life-enhancing and sustainable benefits right here on earth.

National Space Council

A very significant step is the creation of a National Space Council, which will coordinate the Government’s space strategy and capabilities. This coordination will also be driven by a new National Space Framework, which will be owned and operated by the Council.

This will have implications throughout our society, because space affects policy in a wide range of government departments. Most obviously the Ministry of Defence for security and defence, but also the Cabinet Office for civil contingencies, Defra for Earth observation, BEIS for industry and climate change, DCMS for communications, and across many other departments in terms of the enabling technologies that space and satellite technology can provide.

The National Space Framework therefore recognises three top-level national priorities aligned with the Cabinet Office-led Fusion Doctrine: those of Prosperity and Knowledge, Security and Protection, and thirdly Global Influence.

Through these, the Council will improve its understanding of future UK requirements, deliver the practical joint working across all government departments to improve policy coherence and, importantly, working with the sector, to achieve our ambitious growth targets. Last year the Space Growth Partnership published ‘Prosperity from Space’ – a blueprint to build on our success to date, to enable the UK to access over £70 billion worth of new opportunities by 2030. And we set out a national ambition of accelerating growth to secure 10% of global market share in commercial space activity by this date.

The structure of the National Space Council is still to be agreed with the Cabinet Office, but we expect it to have a permanent full-time secretariat and formal supporting structures from across government, industry and academia.

As we saw from President Macron’s recent announcement of a new space defence command in France, governments all over the world are recognising the strategic value of space. And for the UK, the new Space Council will provide renewed focus and ambition, to accelerate the excellent progress that we’ve already made to date. We’ve also reaffirmed our commitment to the European Space Agency – an organisation which we helped to found, and that we are absolutely proud to be a part of. We’re contributing around £300 million to ESA each year, and I believe that is money entirely well spent. For every £1 we invest with ESA, we see an average return of £10.

We’re committed to continuing collaboration with member states in ESA on research and on development – particularly in such an important year for ESA, with the Council of Ministers in November, where member states will agree ESA’s future programmes of work.

It’s fantastic to see that already preparations for that are also building up to an ambitious programme based on global collaboration, excellent science as well as commercial programmes that will support our Industrial Strategy.

Space sector R&D

The Government’s commitment to raise research and development spending to 2.4% of GDP offers a considerable opportunity to space and other technology-based sectors. The space sector is six times more R&D intensive than the UK average, and we will continue to work closely with ESA in order to develop programme proposals that benefit R&D as well as boosting our national capabilities. This complementary approach offers significant opportunities to maximise the commercial and scientific impact of space, but also to maximise its role in tackling problems like climate change I discussed earlier. I look forward to continuing this strong and vitally important partnership, and to seeing many more fantastic achievements from ESA, for many years to come.

Space is a truly global endeavour that benefits everyone, but we can only achieve these benefits if we have a safe and secure space environment. The UK is leading international discussions to determine practical ways both governments and industry can ensure space will be available for future generations.

Building on our work with ESA, and the increased global appetite for international space agencies to work together, the UK Space Agency is now looking to enhance our level of international engagement and cooperation through a series of bilateral programmes.

The intent is to provide a real opportunity for the UK space sector, industry and academia, to strengthen its international relationships while also continuing to collaborate with our close partners across Europe. That’s a key theme which runs right through the engagement I’ve taken forwards, also with our publication of our International Research and Innovation Strategy. I’m delighted that space continues to form part of a wider strategy we have across government.

Funding and financing

As the UK we have a fantastic story to tell. We are, for example, a satellite telecoms powerhouse; one in four telecoms satellites contains parts made in the UK. We are also working with international partners to put in place the necessary agreements for companies from around the world to be able to come here to the UK, while investing in related facilities and technology, including almost £100 million for a new National Satellite Test Facility in Harwell, and £60 million for Reaction Engines to develop its revolutionary air-breathing rocket tech-nology.

It is absolutely vital that these projects and investments continue, because the UK simply cannot afford to opt out of space. We need to build on our strengths and to make space a major priority for the UK’s future. This means continuing to be a major investor in ESA, to put forward our best and most talented minds, and to invest in our satellite applications cluster from Glasgow to Goonhilly.

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