What does the future hold for the UK space industry?

Posted on 10 May 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Aerospace company, Lockheed Martin hosted a panel event with the British think tank Policy Exchange yesterday (9 May) in London to look at the UK’s leadership in space in the wake of the UK Space Industry Act passing through Parliament earlier this year.

Lockheed Martin hosted a panel event with Policy Exchange to look at the UK’s leadership in space – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

The aim of the panel event was to talk about synergies between commercial and military spaceflight and implications for international security cooperation and future of the commercial spaceflight.

The three panel speakers MP Jesse Norman, Patrick Wood from Lockheed Martin Space and Air Marshal E J Stringer discussed what the UK ambitions in this area are and what it might take to deliver on these ambitions, both from the private and the public sector.

Jesse Norman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, addressed the needs for the framework created by the UK Space Industry Act 2018, and he highlighted the importance of the Industrial Strategy as a major tool to boost the space industry.

With the UK Space Industry Act 2018, the government plans to add billions of pounds to the UK economy and create hundreds of high-skilled jobs by unlocking opportunities in the new space age.

According to the government, the Space Industry Act 2018 will ‘open up the universe to businesses’, allowing them to better compete in the commercial space race using UK spaceports, and taking advantage of future developments, including hypersonic flight and high-speed point-to-point transport.

The passing of the Space Industry Act and the 8 new projects will, according to the government, open up a new space era for the UK ensuring it becomes a leading destination for space flight.

Reportedly, companies will have greater access to commercial space opportunities, increasing the UK’s share of the global space industry – currently 6.5% – and growing the sector which is currently worth £13.7bn to the British economy.

The government’s responsibilities 

The government’s Industrial Strategy, Norman said at the panel event, has started to re-energise and to reinvigorate the further development of the already booming space industry.

Norman said: “There is no reason why the UK should not become the European leader in the space industry within the next years as it develops.

“Historically, our country has always played a significant role in building, launching, tracking satellites and developing new rockets. Furthermore, with the new UK Space Industry Act we also have the most modern space legislation in the world.”

The question is, Norman added: “How can the UK create the perfect conditions across the country that it needs to launch sites for the own domestic space operations?”

“The interaction with international partners is vital to ensure that we not just build a domestic space industry, but create one that serves wider European and international needs.”

The technology behind the competitiveness 

A second point, the discussion touched upon, were technology complexities behind building and fostering a competitive UK space sector on the international stage.

Panel host Lockheed Martin UK is a strategic partner to the government and a major contributor to the UK economy.  As the fifth largest supplier to the Ministry of Defence, the company spends £1bn each year, supporting over 1,000 companies in the supply chain. The investment in the F-35 programme will sustain up to 20,000 UK jobs during the production phase.

But the company aims higher, as Patrick Wood, UK country executive, Lockheed Martin Space, said: “We want to grow our UK footprint, build and design a system integration capability, and we are excited about the opportunity in the UK to build a spaceport thanks to a great work done by the UK Space Agency.”

Lockheed Martin’s six-month long journey to the Red Planet is scheduled to arrive Nov. 26, 2018.

The UK Space Agency has reportedly been asked by the UK government to lead a task force to work quickly to develop options for a British global navigation satellite system.

Wood said at the panel discussion that Lockheed Martin would support this British global navigation satellite system which is expected to compete with the European Union (EU) Galileo programme.

According to Market Forecast, the space industry is emerging as one of the most lucrative industries globally. It is valued at $360bn in 2018, is projected grow at a CAGR of 5.6%, to value $558bn by 2026.

However, Wood underlined that Lockheed Martin has all the ingredients to create an active space environment and the ambition to gain 10% of the global market in space by 2030.

“We should continue to stretch that goal to become a leader of space in Europe. We have a healthy mix of science, commercial and military capabilities, and we have a close working relationship between industry and academia.”

What barriers stand in the way? 

A third question the speakers discussed was: ‘What fundamental weaknesses does the UK have to overcome?’

Wood added that ‘around thousand satellites’ are being launched within the next 10 years, and they would be exposed to serious risks arising from the growing space exploration and the increasing connectivity of the space initiatives with cyberspace and geospace.

WorldView-4 will be DigitalGlobe’s next very high resolution imaging satellite providing high resolution and color imagery to commercial, government and international customers.

In terms of the skills base, he added: “We will face major challenges. Everybody in the space industry recognises the importance of stimulating students to stay on the right subjects, such as aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering or computer sciences.

“We must work in dynamic teams that push the international boundaries to have a diverse workforce in order to be able to compete. And the industry has to take more responsibility.”

Air Marshal E J Stringer CB CBE, Director General Joint Force Development and Defence Academy, concluded: “Everywhere I look, I cannot see how we will be able to retain services without supporting flexible career paths allowing more students to take up high-skilled professions in the field of cyber software, for example.

“And cross-government organisations have to work with the industry as well.”

The ‘Government Digital Service’ for instance has already communities of practice across government, that bring together people working in design or user research.

The new ‘Service Communities’ will bring together people from across these professional boundaries. People in the communities will be united by the service they work on.

However, the key question at the end of the panel discussion remains open: “To which extend can the UK space industry maintain its world-leading place on its own without its partners from the European Union?”