By January 27, 2020 Read More →

Ministers address UK space sector in House of Commons

This month saw Chris Skidmore, the minister for universities, science, research and innovation, questioned in the House of Commons about the state of play of the UK space sector.

Asked by Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con), vice president of the newly formed all-party parliamentary group, the Parliamentary Space Committee, about the steps being taken to support the space industry in the UK, Mr Skidmore said: “The UK space sector employs 42,000 highly skilled people, generating more than £300 billion for the wider economy.

“We recently committed ourselves to investing £374 million a year – a record 15% increase – with the European Space Agency over the next five years, and our National Space Council and space strategy will help us to lead the way in the evolution of this high-technology sector.”

Mr Garnier expanded on his original question, asking for an update on the status of funding for innovation in the sector, as referenced in the Queen’s speech, and of plans for the proposed UK space strategy.

Mr Skidmore replied: “I understand that the space industry has proposed a space innovation fund, and I am interested in working with the industry on that. The National Space Council will consider how we can build on existing commitments through a comprehensive UK space strategy, which will help to create thousands of jobs across the country.”

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) asked how all the regions of the UK will benefit from that potential, and, in particular, how Northern Ireland will benefit?

Mr Skidmore said: “Our national space strategy constitutes a one nation approach that will involve every part of the UK, from a horizontal launch site down in Newquay in Cornwall to a vertical launch site up in Sutherland in Scotland. We are also thinking about establishing a spaceport in Wales. Every part of the UK will be involved in space, and rightly so.”

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con) noted that while the UK has a growing share of one of the fastest-growing markets in the world (the market for satellites), no country in Europe has the ability to launch satellites into space, adding that there is a race to be the first to do so. He asked Mr Skidmore to update the House on when the Sutherland site is expected to be ready for the launch of the first UK satellite?

Mr Skidmore answered: “I am working closely with the Highlands and Islands authorities to ensure that we can achieve our vertical launch, and that we work with Lockheed and other partners to do so as soon as possible.

Britain’s own ARPA

To push the UK space sector (and other areas of technology) forward, Alan Mak (Havant) (Con) has called for the formation of Britain’s equivalent to America’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

“Formed in 1958, ARPA – DARPA as it’s now known; ‘D’ added for Defence – not only helped deliver the moon landings but is also credited with innovations including  an early version of the internet, GPS and driverless cars. By launching ARPA, the United States were determined that in the future they would be the “initiator and not the victim of strategic technological surprises.”

Key to seizing this opportunity and fulfilling Britain’s potential, he said is the creation of a “new agency for high-risk, high-payoff research, at arm’s length from government, promised in our last election manifesto. “

He concluded: “Properly funded and focused, an ARPA-style British innovation and research agency would do the same for our strategic interests too – and put us on the front foot.”

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