By June 19, 2019 Read More →

National space programme will bring coherence to the sector

The UK has a long space heritage, from the launch of Ariel in 1962 which made the UK the third nation in space, to the creation of the UK Space Agency in 2010, with the start of sector cooperation. 2017 saw the UK’s space ambitions move forward again with plans for sovereign low cost launch capability, and in 2018 the sector published its strategy for future growth.

Now 2019 has seen proposals for a ‘National Space Programme Framework’. Delivered by the Space Growth Partnership, this is intended as a mechanism by which the space sector and the Government will come together to ensure coherence across the industry.

Speaking about the National Space Programme at the Space Exports Forum in May, Jaime Reed, director of consulting services at CGI, said: “It recognises that the industry is at an inflection point, partly because of the commercialisation of space, and compounded by factors such as the loss of access to Galileo, uncertain participation in the future EU space programme, fragmented domestic capabilities, and the fact that space is becoming increasingly contested and congested.”

A strategic partnership can pursue £75bn of new global opportunities by securing UK leadership in the commercialisation of space, retaining and building up strategic sovereign capability and assets, and improving competitiveness.

“We’ve been working on a space sector deal for a while now, and last year came very close, but didn’t quite get it over the line,” said Mr Reed. “There is an ongoing opportunity to keep pressing and developing the deal, with lots of good feedback from the space minister. A key part of delivering an integrated sector deal will be the National Space Programme.

“It’s a relatively modest programme in international terms, but very strategic and focused on key capabilities.”

Funding implications

With a foundation phase during 2019, and a potential start date of April 2020, the National Space Programme would see funding of £560m over five years, with the Government operating as an anchor customer to enable industry to develop novel business models. It will create the necessary business environment for success, accelerating access to finance, creating a competitive and agile regulatory environment, and increasing exports and inward investment. Further, it will continue to drive growth from European institutional programmes.

“The goal is to have the National Space Programme replacing ad hoc investments with a sustained £70m programme of investment to ensure consistency,” said Mr Reed. “That will focus on four key technologies: global surveillance and positional awareness; connectivity services; in-space robotics; and low cost access to space.”

Looking at national space spending versus ESA contributions by different European countries, it is clear in comparison that the UK’s national spending is dwarfed by its ESA contribution. “Other countries are not only investing in ESA but they are also investing nationally, which is enabling them to go out and win contracts,” said Mr Reed.

The UK’s National Space Programme would provide a focus for purely national interest and for bi- or multi-lateral collaboration outside of ESA. It would provide national near market exploitation of ESA research, and would drive increased R&D to enable the UK to secure better value from ESA programmes.

Anchor customer

One area of focus is around having the Government as an anchor customer to unlock investment – not just for launch capability for also for space services and space equipment. “There is recognition that the UK’s position in the global space industry is changing, and that the Government needs to step up and do something a bit different.”

The National Space Programme is still under development, with a number of meetings having taken place to see how the structure that goes around it can be improved, and in particular how it is framed relative to the Government’s industrial strategy – which is itself evolving.

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