The Manufacturer speaks with Richard Peckham, business development director (Space) of Airbus Defence and Space UK.
Britain’s space sector has doubled turnover over the past decade to almost £12bn a year. What has changed to invigorate growth in the sector?
In one sense, nothing has changed as space has been quietly growing since first becoming a commercial reality in the 1970s through TV broadcasting.
What has changed more recently has been the realisation and recognition that there is this big industry feeding off the signals and communications channels that satellites provide.
Having now woken up to this, it is possible to target investments where there is the greatest leverage from satellite infrastructure to services and applications on the ground/sea/air.
The sector is now targeting £40bn of the international market by 2030, how is it going to achieve this?
The high growth achieved in recent years has been a result of concerted actions from all the stakeholders in the space sector: industry, government and academia.
The space sector is characterised by strong government interventions as many nations view it as a strategic capability or a statement of national pride.
Therefore going forward, it is essential to maintain a strong partnership between government, industry and the research community, and to target investments where the UK has strong expertise and focusing on the high-growth markets.
The Telegraph recently said that the sector is ‘misunderstood’, what do you think the public is misunderstanding?
The typical public perception of space is that it is all about “out there”; astronauts, planetary probes and astronomical missions.
And while it is about these things, it is actually much more about down-to-earth things and consumers: delivering TV; mobile communications; internet in remote locations; accurate time and position everywhere; monitoring of our earth resources and climate; supporting humanitarian aid and disaster relief; delivering satellite images to our laptops and mobile devices.
What are the barriers to the UK space sector thriving?
Industry is ready to invest and more private sector capital is flowing into the sector, but we still need more entrepreneurs ready to take risks and start new businesses.
It is essential the Government maintains a consistently supportive space policy and plays its part in investing in early stage R&D and into national missions.
More than half the £40bn target must be achieved through exports, and government has a key role to play in supporting British businesses to export, in particular by demonstrating confidence in British products and expertise by what they buy at home.
Lastly, we have to ensure the UK regulatory environment – both generally for business and more specifically space law and regulations – are regularly benchmarked to make the UK the best place in the world to conduct space business.
What are the end user benefits, as well as, wider economic perks of growth in the sector?
Space permeates all sectors of society, often invisibly. Already sectors such as agriculture; forestry; weather forecasting; transport; energy; mining; defence; construction, and financial services are relying or benefiting from satellite-based services in one way or another.
Consumers have now become used to accurate position information to their car satnav or mobile device, probably without thinking of the space connection.
Soon near real-time video and imagery from space will also be a taken for granted app on mobile devices. A recent analysis by London Economics – The Case for Space 2015, while not trying to put a number to the total social and economic benefits of space, demonstrated through a series of case studies and quantification – where it was available – that space makes a massive contribution to many other sectors of the UK economy either enabling or improving productivity.