Stellar ambitions for UK space industry

Posted on 4 Jul 2011 by The Manufacturer

Science Minister, David Willetts puts UK back in the space race by lowering the cost of satellite licensing insurance.

The cost of licensing routine satellites has been putting UK companies in the space industry at a disadvantage in recent years. Today government recognised this fact and, in line with policies laid down in the Plan for Growth, has taken steps to reduce this financial hurdle.

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, explained to delegates at the inaugural UK Space Conference, held at Warwick University, that government’s intervention would reduce the minimum insurance demanded for licensing satellites from €110m to €60m, thereby saving the industry £7 million over 11 years in insurance premiums.

The move to lower insurance is however, just the first of a two-phase plan to facilitate the growth of the space industry in the UK. The next step will be the amendment of the Outer Space Act. This piece of legislation currently puts undue pressure on satellite manufacturers and players in the space industry accept liability from the UN Treaty.

Amendments to this area of industry law will create a second tier of legislation to protect industry representatives, a state of affairs which already exists in other countries. Government plans to have this in place by April 2012.

The UK Space Conference at which these announcements were made is an important community milestone for the space industry, and Mr Willetts spoke to re-emphasize the significance of the sector to future economic strength in the UK. Mr Willetts said: “The UK’s space sector is a crucial driver of growth, and is worth around £7.5 billion annually. That’s why it’s crucial that we’ve taken the first steps in reforming the Outer Space Act.

“We have real strengths in satellites and telecommunications, and this will help put UK operators on a level playing field with their international competitors. I want to do everything I can to further boost the UK’s space sector, and continue working with industry to reduce regulatory burdens.”

Other key announcements at the first UK Space Agency Conference include the revelation that the Space group at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has been selected to design, build and test the world’s first ever high-definition streaming space video camera. This innovation will be installed on the International Space Station and will give users everywhere the opportunity to see places and people around the world with a resolution comparable to that of the mapping application, Google Earth.

Other news unveiled plans to award the UK Space Agency with several grants to industry and academia for the development of technology pioneered for the Exomars robotic space exploration programme. The grants are designed to encourage commercial application of existing space technology.

The Exomars technologies are valued at just under half a million pounds and cover a wide range of potential applications, including clean methods for extracting oil from oil sands; automated driving aids for large off-road vehicles; and using 3-D cameras in hazardous industrial environments.