A look at the UK’s 10 point plan from its new National Space Strategy

The United Kingdom National Space Strategy

The United Kingdom (UK) has released its new National Space Strategy that includes a 10 point plan with their initial focus areas. It builds on previous policy plans and notably starts with this point: Capture the European market in commercial small satellite launch.

The new UK National Space Strategy does away with the goal of capturing 10% of the global space economy by 2030. In story by Space News, Rebecca Evernden, director for space at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said this was deliberate. “It’s been quite a long time since that initial 10% target was set. We concluded that we needed a more sophisticated way to measure growth in the various parts of the U.K. space sector which is less clumsy, if you like, than a single headline growth target which is somewhat subject to the whims of foreign exchange rates and other factors that can perhaps skew the big picture of what is a very strong growth story in the U.K.”

In releasing the strategy the government said “The UK already boasts a thriving space sector employing over 45,000 people in highly skilled jobs – from space scientists and researchers to engineers and satellite manufacturers. The National Space Strategy looks to harness these strengths and support British companies to seize future opportunities, with the global space economy projected to grow from an estimated £270 billion in 2019 to £490 billion by 2030.”

Here’s are the 10 points from the new National Space Strategy with some commentary;

1. Capture the European market in commercial small satellite launch The UK will achieve the first small satellite launch from Europe in 2022 with the aim of becoming the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030. Government is investing to develop spaceports across locations in England, Scotland, and Wales, laying the groundwork for end-to-end UK services building, launching, and operating small satellites, and working closely with industry to implement modern regulations and create favourable conditions for launch.

This long-term goal which the UK government has been working on steadfastly for several years is getting closer to reality. Government policies and regulations have been, and are, still being updated to accommodate launch from UK soil. And while the UK is pushing hard on this front, competition is also ramping up. The Esrange Space Center in norther Sweden is looking at being able to launch up to 150kg payloads to a sun-synchronous LEO orbit from the SSC SmallSat Express under development. Meanwhile, in another example, just weeks ago the German government announced the New Space Small Satellite Initiative which would see launches from a ship in the North Sea. The UK understands that having one or more spaceports is important to grow their industry base.

2. Fight climate change with space technology – The UK will not reach its goal of net zero emissions by 2050 without a clear understanding of how climate change is impacting the Earth, to guide crucial decision- making and investments. We will strive to remain at the forefront of Earth Observation (EO) technology and know-how, including by participating in Copernicus, the world’s leading global EO programme and working with partners in ESA on the TRUTHS mission to deliver a 10-fold improvement in accuracy.

Investments in EO is critical to fight climate change. It is also an investment for many other areas. More investments in EO by as many governments as possible is needed.

3. Unleash innovation across the space sector – Our UK Innovation Strategy identifies the priority technologies that will drive innovation and growth in the space sector – from robotics and smart machines, advanced materials and manufacturing to AI, digital and advanced computing. This includes strengthening the pull-through of innovation into commercial opportunities to expand UK exports, IP, and know-how. For example, we will build on the success of the National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP) to encourage the development of cutting-edge space products.

Nothing really new on this item.

4. Expand our horizons with space science and exploration – We will put space at the heart of our ambition to lead the world as a science and technology superpower. The UK’s national programme of space science and exploration will better focus on UK strengths and priorities, and we will strengthen bilateral relationships with established and emerging space nations to maximise benefits on shared objectives. Missions such as the US-led Artemis programme open the door for greater UK involvement in human spaceflight and provide opportunities for UK companies to innovate and develop future manufacturing capabilities.

It’s interesting that this item is about space science and exploration yet talks about innovation and develop more manufacturing capabilities.

5. Develop our world class space clusters – The government will work with the space sector to support, connect, and level-up locally led space ecosystems across the UK, capitalising upon sector expertise from Cornwall to the Shetland Islands, Durham to Newport and Portsmouth to Belfast. We will link local clusters into valuable networks of innovators and investors, showcasing the strengths of the UK space sector and leveraging the Harwell cluster in the Oxford- Cambridge Arc to provide a compelling ‘front door’ for international investors in the heart of the UK’s leading space business hub.

Who hasn’t heard of the Harwell cluster? The UK has done a good job at building regional clusters from existing resources. It’s something Canada could learn. While Ontario and Quebec get the bulk of investments, other provinces that have capability should be built on.

Some of the UK’s existing clusters of activity are shown in the diagram. Credit: UK Government.
Some of the UK’s existing clusters of activity are shown in the diagram. Credit: UK Government.

6. Lead the global effort to make space more sustainable – We will build on UK early advantage in robotics and in-orbit servicing and manufacturing (IOSM) to establish global leadership in space sustainability. This includes positioning the UK at the forefront of modern regulation for novel space activities, whilst keeping space sustainable, safe, and secure. The UK is leading efforts at the United Nations to promote safe space operations that will benefit all. We will explore advanced in-orbit debris removal, servicing, refuelling and assembly technologies, bringing together industry, academia, and government to ensure the UK is ready to grasp the opportunities of the future space economy.

It’s fully understood that we need a sustainable space environment. However, a safe and sustainable space environment won’t happen until the governments that created the space debris over decades take responsibility and fund the removal of their space debris.

7. Improve public services with space technology – We will improve key public services spanning healthcare, the environment, transportation, and infrastructure by identifying where space-enabled applications already available on the market could improve lives and reduce costs for the taxpayer. The potential real-world benefits are numerous and diverse from satellite-enabled NHS drones to turning around test results in remote areas faster, to space-enabled sensors and tracking that detects problems in critical infrastructure before they cause outages. We will pilot new delivery with the possibility of rolling out to other UK locations throughout the decade.

8. Deliver the UK Defence Space Portfolio – Having established Space Command, we will launch a National Space Operations Centre, fusing civil and defence expertise to monitor, protect, defend, and promote UK interests in Space. We will launch the UK’s first Defence Space Portfolio to be detailed in the Defence Space Strategy, developing independent Space Domain Awareness (SDA) capabilities to protect UK satellites, and advancing our secure satellite communications programme, Skynet. We will develop a small constellation of ISR satellites and explore other new initiatives to protect and defend the UK, pulling through advanced technologies from R&D to operation and exploring opportunities for dual civil and defence use.

While listed as number 8 in the list, this point is important. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said “The ability to operate in space is fundamental to the success of our Armed Forces but also in maintaining civilian, commercial and economic activity. We launched UK Space Command this year for this very purpose. Collaboration with academic and industry partners ensures we progress research and development needed to stay at the forefront of pioneering technology and ahead of our adversaries. The new National Space Strategy builds on our commitment to spend more than £6 billion over the next 10 years to enhance our space capabilities, support vital skills and expertise whilst strengthening the UK’s security at home and overseas.”

The UK government is adding “an additional £1.4 billion in developing new capabilities over and above the £5 billion already committed to enhance the military’s satellite communications.”

9. Upskill and inspire our future space workforce – We will partner with employers to help more young people gain access to work placements and apprenticeships in rewarding careers such as space engineering and space systems. Guided by the Space Skills Advisory Panel, we will work with employers, training providers and local partners to promote quality training in the skills required by the space sector. These include not only technical skills, but also the business management skills that help turn science and technology into commercial advantage. Finally, we will use the wonder of space to inspire the next generation into STEM careers, inviting space professionals to lead exciting activities and competitions in schools, from building satellites to designing space habitats.

10. Use space to modernise and transform our transport system – Space technology will underpin the modernisation and transformation of the UK transport system, providing enhanced connectivity and positioning services, ensuring safe and reliable operation, and resilient infrastructure. We are supporting innovative public transport projects across the UK, made possible by space-enabled technologies, such as the T-Cabs project to build and trial a fleet of self-driving shuttles. We are also facilitating shared services for short journeys through GPS enabled geo-fencing solutions, including national trials of environmentally friendly e-rental scooters.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 28 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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