The new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), created following the cabinet reshuffle on 7 February, promises to drive innovation, create jobs and grow the economy. It all sounds encouraging, but will they take advantage of the innovation opportunities right in front of them?
2023 has seen the UK suffer several setbacks on the innovation front, with the failed launch of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl and the closure of tech incubator Tech Nation, two high-profile blows to the science and technology sectors.
Despite this, the government has maintained its stance on growing the UK as a global science superpower, while in recent months, the Chancellor has pushed for the UK to become “the world’s next Silicon Valley” through the country’s technology and science programmes.
The timing of the announcement for the new department suggests the plan for the UK to be a global science superpower remains, continuing to promote innovation in the face of adversity, and the space industry is set to be one of the main beneficiaries.
Streamlining innovation resources
Space and manufacturing previously took direction predominantly from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with technological overlap from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). While we still await further details on DSIT’s exact scope, streamlining science, innovation and technology initiatives under a central direction will be a positive for high potential industries such as space.
The UK’s budding space ecosystem took great leaps in 2022 with the build-up to the satellite launch from UK soil, and despite the result of the launch, the industry is poised for huge growth in 2023, with a host of companies preparing for launches, new start-ups set to be formed and a plethora of jobs being created.
Streamlining innovation resources such as funding and support can play a key role in developing small to medium size space companies alongside new start-ups, fuelling the development of new, innovative technologies to better address the country’s current challenges and create practical solutions to boost the economy as the government intends.
For the space industry in particular, regional growth is a huge draw, with areas such as Cornwall leading the charge for the UK’s space efforts, led by the Cornwall Space Cluster which is home to burgeoning space and manufacturing companies and supported by a number of local education institutions. Promoting regional growth under the new department is essential for the national economy to rebound.
Granting Secretary of State for DSIT, Michelle Donelan, a Cabinet seat suggests that the support for innovation being demonstrated by the government will be a central driver in economic and growth plans, propelled by a focus on future technologies including quantum, AI, semiconductors and telecoms.
Sunak claims a central aspect of the new department is to “create new and better-paid jobs” as part of planned economic prosperity, a factor which the space sector could play a key role in leading given the platform for growth.
The UK Space Outlook 2022 report by ADS highlighted that that the UK directly employs 47,000 people in high value, high skilled jobs in the space industry, alongside an estimated 2,500 apprentices. Support to education institutions and training schemes to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills and populate the workforce with highly technical workers can turbocharge the industry while delivering on the DSIT’s new ambitions.
Areas such as In-Orbit Services and Manufacturing, Earth Observation, and launches will all continually develop over the coming years and require workers across manufacturing, technology, business and beyond to continue innovation, showcasing why space is the perfect sector for the government to provide streamlined support to.
The benefits of space are vast and can help across areas such as climate change through building and environment monitoring to lead targeted action, satellite navigation systems to help emergency services get to important locations quickly, and even industries such as FinTech with asset monitoring and mining with material locating. These benefits have plenty of scope to be taken further and can be greatly enhanced through the support of the Department for Science.
Investments in space and manufacturing companies, developing UK spaceports, and funding end-to-end launch programmes should be a priority for the new science minister, promoting technology and innovation which can re-establish the UK as a global superpower in line with the government’s ambitions.
The signs for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology are positive so far, now the ball is in their court to take advantage of the innovation opportunities in front of them.
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About the author
Nadeem Gabbani is the Founder and Principal Engineer for UK satellite firm Exobotics, with nearly a decade of space industry experience working across multiple small-satellite missions.