Satellites and space Contents


1.As Major Tim Peake prepared for his launch to the International Space Station in December 2015, the Government published its first ever National Space Policy.1 Commenting on the document, the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, remarked that while, historically, the UK had not “been a major player in space programmes” the National Space Policy would “change that because, in the words of my hero Mr Spock, to do anything else would be highly illogical.”2

2.Much has already been achieved by the UK space and satellites sector. Over the past six decades, the UK has designed, built, launched and operated spacecraft. In 1962, Britain became the third nation, after Russia and the United States, to launch a satellite—Ariel 1. Today, we have an enviable reputation as an internationally-leading supplier and operator of small satellites. Our space scientists and engineers are world-class and have had a global impact, advancing our knowledge and understanding of the universe through their participation in a wide range of projects, including the recent Rosetta programme and the forthcoming ExoMars mission.

3.Though such activities may seem remote, space technologies have become integral parts of everyday life: communications satellites allow radio, television and telephone transmissions to be sent live, anywhere in the world; navigation satellites form the backbone of our emergency, aviation, and logistics systems; while Satellite-based Earth Observation enables us to gather, almost instantaneously, vast amounts of data about the planet’s physical, chemical and biological systems—data which meteorologists, and those studying environmental change, rely upon. All of which has a tangible, positive impact upon the quality of our lives and the UK economy.

4.The ‘space economy’ encompasses a range of activities, from ‘upstream’ companies that manufacture, launch and operate satellites and launch vehicles, to the ‘downstream’ organisations that “make use of the signals and data supplied by these space assets to develop value-added applications”, such as meteorological services.3 In 2012–13, the UK space economy generated a turnover of £11.8bn, an increase of 4.1% on the previous year, while directly employing over 35,000 people.4 According to the National Space Policy, the sector has delivered year on year economic growth rates of around 8% over the last decade.5

Our inquiry

5.Despite a distinguished history, excellence in R&D and innovation, and impressive economic growth figures, there has been a tendency for those involved in the UK space sector to be unduly modest about its genuine, and often ground breaking, achievements. One of the major challenges now facing the sector is a general lack of awareness, both that the UK has a well-established space sector, and that space and satellite technologies have the potential to address some of the ‘Grand Challenges’ we face. The National Space Policy reaffirms the Government’s support for the industry’s ambitious target to grow its share of the global space market from 6.5% to 10% by 2030.6 By today’s estimates, this would lead to a UK sector with £40 billion per annum of space-enabled turnover.7 Satellites is also one of the ‘Eight Great Technologies’: technologies in which the Government anticipates that “the UK is set to be a global leader”.8

6.In light of these targets, and the Government’s renewed emphasis on space and satellites, we decided to examine the opportunities for innovation and growth across the sector, as well as the potential roadblocks along the way. In doing so, we have followed up on our predecessor’s examination of the Work of the European and UK Space Agencies in 2013. The UK Space Agency was established in 2011 as an executive agency, sponsored by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, with responsibility for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme. We hope that our current inquiry will inform the UK Space Agency’s preparation of its forthcoming Civil Space Strategy.

7.In December 2015, we announced our inquiry and sought submissions addressing the following points:

a)What satellite-based capabilities should the Government particularly support—telecommunications, navigation, earth observation, space science, or others—and how?

b)What steps should the Government be taking to build markets for both new satellites and the ‘space services’ that they provide (such as space-based internet services or high resolution imaging)?

c)What is the impact of the current UK regulatory environment on growth in the satellites and space sector? Is it conducive to new players, such as SMEs and start-ups, entering the market? Has the regulatory environment kept pace with innovations in satellite/space technologies?

d)What mechanisms are needed to encourage investment in UK space and satellite technology, and improve access to finance?

e)Is the Government striking the right balance between national and European/international endeavour?

f)What are the key challenges facing the Government and industry in developing and implementing new space capabilities and services?  What are the technical barriers to further growth in the sector, including the lack of a UK launch capacity?

8.We received 45 written submissions and took oral evidence from 17 witnesses from a variety of backgrounds including:

We also received a video message from Major Tim Peake on the International Space Station (see Chapter 2 and Appendix). We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the inquiry. Chapter 2 considers where innovation and growth in the UK satellite and space sector may come from and the extent to which opportunities are being capitalised upon.9 Chapter 3 identifies some of the potential barriers to growth, while Chapter 4 looks to the future and the potential for a UK national space programme.

1 HM Government, National Space Policy, December 2015

2 “National Space Policy: science fiction into science fact” UK Space Agency News Story, 13 December 2015

3 ibid para 2.1

4 London Economics, The Case for Space 2015, July 2015, paras 3.1 and 5.3

5 HM Government, National Space Policy, December 2015, p 7

6 ibid

7 Space IGS, Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014–2030, Space Growth Action Plan, November 2013, p 4

8 HM Government, Eight Great Technologies infographic, October 2013

9 Science and Technology Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2013–14, Work of the European and UK Space Agencies, HC 253

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

13 June 2016