UK risks missing out on £40bn space industry

Posted on 18 Nov 2015 by Jonny Williamson

The UK could miss out securing £40bn of the world’s space sector and an additional 100,000 jobs if government and industry don’t step up, warns a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The report – Seeking Resolution: Growing the UK Small Satellite Industry – focuses on the UK’s emerging small satellite sector, an area which the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) says is being hampered by “restrictive regulations, barriers to investment and fragmented collaboration between stakeholders”.

The IMechE’s report calls for:

  • The UK Space Agency to better support SMEs by setting up a small satellite advisory team, simplifying the licensing regime & scrapping the third-party liability.
  • The Satellite Applications Catapult to boost the number of people taking placements in the space industry to 1,000 a year over the next five years, and to increase the money available to SMEs from £20m to £70m over the next five years and sustain this level until 2030.
  • Ofcom to work with the UK Spectrum Policy Forum to address Spectrum licencing for all small satellite operators.
  • Research councils to work with universities to create a long-term strategy to attract young people into the space sector and develop a strategy for space technology research.

IMechE highlight Earth Observation (EO) as being one of the fastest growing areas of small satellite use, offering the ability to gather data about the planet’s physical, chemical and biological systems.

According to IMechE, EO satellites can monitor urban growth, land-use change and provide rapid casualty estimates following natural or human disasters, among other capabilities.

Yet, despite the UK having some of the world’s leading companies designing and manufacturing EO satellites, such as SSTL and Oxford Space Systems, the report states that outdated and complex launch and operation licence regimes, combined with expensive third-party liability insurance, is stifling further growth.

The IMechE’s head of engineering in society, Dr Helen Meese explained: ““Small Satellites are not only transforming sectors such as agriculture, conservation, energy production and disaster relief, but also have the potential to be a huge business opportunity for the UK.

“The UK has the potential to build a £40 billion space industry by 2030, supporting an extra 100,000 jobs, but work needs to be done to simplify regulation and boost the number of people entering the space industry or we risk losing business overseas.

“Funding is currently spread too thinly across academic institutions so more needs to be done by the Research Councils to boost investment in innovative satellite research.”