Satellites and space Contents

2Innovation and growth

9.This chapter sets out where there is scope for innovation and growth in the UK space and satellite sector, focusing in particular on small satellites, space-enabled services and the potential establishment of a UK spaceport. It also considers how these opportunities are being capitalised upon.

Small satellites and satellite constellations

10.The United Kingdom is a recognised leader in the development of satellites—especially small satellites—for navigation, earth observation and communication purposes.10 ‘Small satellites’ is the overarching term used for those satellites with an in-orbit mass of less than 500 kg. They can range in mass from 100–500kg (‘mini-satellites’), to 1–10kg (‘nano-satellites’) to less than 100g (‘femto-satellites’). Small satellite platforms can also facilitate ‘constellation architectures’—a group of satellites working together.

11.Growth in the small satellite market is strong. In 2013, 92 satellites weighing between 1–50kg were launched globally.11 The space consultancy firm Euroconsult has forecast that over 500 small satellites will be launched between 2015 and 2019, with a total estimated market value of $7.4 billion; a 66% increase on the number of launches over the past decade.12 Growth, however, is contingent upon reliable, low-cost access to space. Richard Peckham from Airbus noted that one of the impediments to growth facing small satellite companies was the ongoing challenge of securing a low-cost launch slot. Currently, a small satellite provider has to ‘hitchhike’ on a launch for a bigger satellite.13 Airbus described this arrangement as placing the smaller, secondary payload at “the mercy of the main customer”:14

If somebody is going to launch a two-tonne satellite and you want to put your 100 kg on it, you are reliant on when that goes [ … ] If it gets delayed because the programme of the main guy paying for the launch is delayed for some reason, you are stuck.15

12.Several of our witnesses stressed that the UK would benefit from establishing its own launch capability, potentially in the form of a ‘UK Spaceport’ which we discuss further in paragraph 27. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, a spaceport could “catalyse the market for low-cost access to space, hand-in-hand with the development of smaller satellites that could be launched from the spaceport”.16

13.Small satellite providers were broadly supportive of such a move.17 Dr David Parker from the UK Space Agency reported that SMEs, like Clyde Space, had told the Agency that “the opportunity to have independent access for putting small satellites into space could make good business sense”.18 Ruy Pinto from Inmarsat, however, was less convinced that a UK spaceport was essential to spearhead growth in small satellites. He stated that “having a regulatory regime that incentivises the manufacture of small satellites” was “more important than having a spaceport”.19 We discuss the space regulatory environment in detail in Chapter 3.

Space-enabled services and data

14.In addition to designing and developing new satellite technology, witnesses emphasised that capitalising on downstream ‘space-enabled services’, made possible by using satellite data, presented considerable growth opportunities. Direct-to-home satellite television is one of the most well-known, and well-used, satellite applications, though others are emerging.20 Surrey Satellite Technology highlighted how Earth observation data was increasingly being used to assist with “flood modelling and response, maritime surveillance, environmental and agricultural monitoring, natural resource assessment” as well for security and defence purposes.21

15.Vision 2030, produced by the Satellite Applications Catapult, outlines how the application of these satellite-based services could become increasingly essential to our day-to-day lives in the near future. Examples from Vision 2030 are outlined in Box 1 below.

1)Space technology could deliver increased airspace capacity, and lower airline operating costs, through aircraft using hyper-accurate navigation and weather data to plot optimal routes. Airports would also be better able to schedule arrivals and turn-arounds.

2)Competitive commercial meteorology providers could use advanced sensors in space to deliver accurate short and long-term forecasts for route mapping, so that cargo being transported to port by land now arrives at precisely the right time for loading on board the designated ship.

3)Satellite data could also power precision farming techniques, such as crop growth monitoring and disease prediction, improving yields, reducing the use of fuel and fertilisers, while also making crop shortfalls more manageable thanks to early warnings.

4)The UK’s lead in smart, space-based radar for maritime surveillance has the potential to be used to ensure that endangered fish stocks are restored, illegal fishing is combated and global ocean reserves are protected for future generations

5)Further afield, broadband from space could transform connectivity and trade in rural locations and in developing nations.

Satellite Applications Catapult, Vision 2030: A world empowered by space (July 2014)

16.Analysis undertaken for the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014–2030 (a strategy produced by a team drawn from industry, academia and Government) indicated that the highest growth space markets over the next two decades would be in “space-based services and applications using space data, services and infrastructure”.22 Based on this market analysis, the Strategy, when it was published in 2013, recommended capitalising on “high-value priority markets”, such as maritime surveillance, and satellite broadband, in order to “deliver £30 billion per annum of new space applications by promoting the benefits of Space to business and Government and engaging service providers”.23 Indeed, this was the first recommendation made in the Strategy.

17.Encouraging the Government and the public sector to use satellite-derived services and data also formed part of the Civil Space Strategy 2012–2016, a separate strategy produced by the UK Space Agency. The Agency stated that it would:

support the development of ‘smarter’, more efficient government through the use of space data by providing strategic leadership, and by acting as the centre of expertise for government departments; working with them to identify applications and translate their needs into requirements for the space industry.24

18.Much like our predecessor Committee in 2013, we heard that while the UK space sector had good intentions in this area, it remained some way off reaching its goal of capitalising upon the space services market. This is due to a number of interrelated problems. First, we heard that UK growth in space services is being held back by a lack of awareness in companies outside of the traditional space sector of the ways in which satellite data can be used. As Professor Barstow from the Royal Astronomical Society explained, these are companies that “do not see themselves as being in the space business” and “do not know they will be able to benefit from the space sector”25.

19.Raising awareness, however, presents a second challenge. We heard evidence that the satellites and space sector had traditionally been inward-looking and had not readily engaged with other industries. The Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014–2030 clearly states that the “greatest challenge” facing the space industry is for it “to become more outward looking”.26 As Ruy Pinto from Inmarsat explained, space was “one of those industries that, frankly, loved to talk to one another. We had conferences and we just went round in circles, rather like people saying goodbye at the end of a party”.27 He added, however, that this outlook was changing:

If we are to deliver on all the strategies and the growth targets we set ourselves, we have to open up and talk to outsiders, and bring in the supermarkets, retail chains, the teaching industry and the airline and training industries [ … ] There is realisation that you have to look outside the sector.28

20.The Satellite Applications Catapult was identified as having an important role to play in raising awareness, so that ‘outsiders’ started:

to realise that space is not the high-cost, high-risk, long-timescale activity they have been brought up to believe it is, but that there are services, capabilities and datasets available for them to use now that can very quickly deliver value to their business.29

UKspace, the Satellite Applications Catapult and the Royal Astronomical Society also suggested that more attention needed to be focused on better understanding the requirements of ‘end users’ of space services so that applications could be tailored to their needs.30

Government use of space services

21.Our witnesses emphasised that using space-enabled services was an area where the Government should be leading by example. In 2013, our predecessor Committee called on the Government to “do more to aggregate its own demand for space-derived services”.31 The National Space Policy states that the Government is committed to driving:

the use of innovative services from space where they are the most cost effective solution to improve public services through coordination across departments and in partnership with the wider space sector.32

We received mixed evidence, however, about whether cross-government co-ordination was occurring. According to the Satellite Applications Catapult, “expertise and use of satellites across government” remained “fragmented and (often) duplicated”. They told us that:

If the government were to aggregate demand, and centralise procurement of satellite services (including police forces and local authorities), then it would be able to reduce costs and act as a ‘launch customer’ for future satellite services, which would build capacity and capability for UK companies, all with very high export potential.33

On the other hand, the UK Space Agency highlighted that a “cross Government Earth Observation Working Group” had recently started looking at the “barriers to use of satellite data”34, and that establishing “what could be done to aggregate demand better” across Government was a piece of “ongoing” work.35

22.The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was singled out as a “positive champion” for putting space services at the heart of its policy delivery.36 In December 2015, it published a Roadmap for the use of Earth Observation across Defra 2015–2020, setting out how satellite data could be exploited by the Department to meet its “policy and operational needs”.37 The UK Space Agency hoped that Defra would be “a trail-blazer for other Departments” though, at the time of writing, no other, equivalent, Departmental, or cross-Government, roadmap existed.38 Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra, emphasised the importance of the cross Government Earth Observation Working Group, which was “in the process of developing its conclusions”, but noted that, “at this stage, we would not call the next stage a road map”.39

23.Professor Boyd was also clear that it would have been “extraordinarily difficult” for Defra to have got as far as it had without the support of, and funding from, the “Space for Smarter Government programme” (SSGP).40 The UK Space Agency described the SSGP as a “partnership between the UK Space Agency and the Satellite Applications Catapult [that] is working with industry and academia to help develop applications and services that enable public sector bodies to better fulfil their obligations”.41 Established in 2014 with a budget of £700,000, Dr David Parker from the UK Space Agency noted that the SSGP’s budget had been increased to £1.5 million for “the current financial year” (2015–16). The Agency’s plan, he explained, was to:

increase [the budget] again in the coming year. That is being driven by individual departments coming with their demands and requirements and linking them to the Satellite Applications Catapult with its technical expertise to help them with their problems.42

24.The UK Space Agency received £370 million from the Government for the 2015–16 financial year,43 so the SSGP’s budget represents approximately 0.4% of the UK Space Agency’s overall budget for 2015–16. It is questionable whether this level of funding matches the clear emphasis placed by the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy, as well as by the UK Space Agency and the Government, on growing the ‘downstream’ space services market.

25.Government and local authorities could use space-enabled services far more to help them to achieve effective and efficient policy delivery. Slow progress in this area, however, has been compounded by the inward-looking approach taken by the space and satellite sector, which has failed to engage with a broad range of stakeholders. The Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) provides a means to remedy this situation. It has successfully worked in partnership with Defra to ensure that the full potential of satellite data will be playing its part in helping the Department to deliver its policy objectives. Other Government departments, however, are trailing behind. The modest resources currently attached to the SSGP do not match the clear emphasis placed by the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy, the UK Space Agency, and the Government, on growing the space-enabled services market. The lack of a cross-Government roadmap for space services also presents a significant barrier to future progress.

26.We recommend that the remit of the Space for Smarter Government Programme is broadened so that it is able to work, in conjunction with Government departments, to establish a cross-Government roadmap for using satellite data and developing space services. The roadmap should identify areas where the application of such services could help the Government deliver its policy objectives more effectively and where it would benefit from aggregating demand to reduce costs. This expanded remit must be supported by adequate resources.

Establishing a UK Spaceport

27.The National Space Policy states that the “Government will enable access to new space markets where they offer significant advantages to UK space businesses” and that it has committed to establish a spaceport in the UK by 2018 for commercial spaceplane operations.44 According to the Government, a spaceport will provide “a focus for regional and international investment for growth” while also “establishing the UK as a leader in the rapidly-expanding space market”.45

28.By March 2015, five potential locations for a spaceport had been identified: Campbeltown, Glasgow Prestwick and Stornoway in Scotland, as well as Newquay in England and Llanbedr in Wales. RAF Leuchars in Fife was additionally identified as a potential temporary facility by the Civil Aviation Authority.46 At the time of writing, a decision on location had not been made. Several media outlets, however, reported that the UK spaceport “competition” had been “axed in favour of a licensing model”, and that the Government now intended to “work with operators to develop viable business models at a range of locations across the UK, rather than at any one single location”.47 These reports followed the Queen’s Speech on 18 May 2016 and the announcement of the Modern Transport Bill, which will bring forward legislation to “allow for the construction of the first commercial spaceport”.48

29.The Space Innovation and Growth Strategy identified limits on “access to space” as a barrier to growth in the UK space sector. It stated that the ability of UK satellite companies to secure launch slots was decreasing, while launch costs were increasing “because the availability of low cost launch vehicles in Eastern Europe is diminishing”.49 There was some disagreement between those giving evidence to us, however, about whether the UK needed to establish a spaceport and whether doing so would address problems with launching satellites, particularly given its current proposed focus on commercial space flight.

30.The Royal Astronomical Society questioned whether the lack of a national launch capacity was “a major technical barrier to growth in the space sector, given the UK’s access to and partnership in the ESA Ariane rocket programme”.50 In a similar vein, Avanti Communications Group, a satellite operator, stated that it did “not believe that the lack of a UK launch facility [was] necessarily a barrier to the growth of the UK space sector”.51 UKspace, in contrast, was supportive of the plans, on the grounds that:

building of one or more UK-based spaceports has the potential to catalyse the market for low cost access to space, hand-in-hand with the development of smaller satellites that could be launched from the UK. In turn, this has the potential to boost UK competitiveness and catalyse new markets in space-enabled services. It will also reduce UK dependence on key facilities currently outside its control.52

31.The Department for Transport (DfT) is expected to publish a detailed technical specification of spaceport requirements, prior to inviting proposals. Though a presentation on Emerging Technical Requirements for a UK Spaceport was published by the DfT in November 2015, it stressed that:

technical and other requirements for a UK Spaceport are [ … ] subject to a number of factors and uncertainties that could cause them to change. No reliance should therefore be placed on any aspect of this presentation, and it should not be assumed the final requirements for a UK Spaceport will be as set out here.53

The presentation did state, however, that examining the potential for a UK spaceport to have a “vertical launch” capacity was “not in the scope” of its work.54 Instead, the Government’s plans were for a UK spaceport that would deliver a horizontal launch capacity, in anticipation of the successful development of suborbital space planes.

32.Though great strides have been made by a number of companies in developing space planes, the technology is unlikely to be operational in the foreseeable future, and is highly unlikely to be ready by 2018. Compared to civil aviation, commercial space plane technology is in its “infancy” and, according to a Government-commissioned review by the Civil Aviation Authority, “the standards of airworthiness for commercial aviation are not fully compatible with spaceplane technology”.55

33.The focus on supporting only a horizontal, rather than horizontal and vertical, launch capacity, was a point of contention in the evidence we received. Surrey Satellite Technology favoured the development of “UK launch solutions aimed at lowering cost and improving schedule reliability” but was “supportive of a UK spaceport with a vertical launch capability and/or air launch capability”.56 Similarly, Discover Space UK, the organisation responsible for Campbeltown’s bid for the UK spaceport, viewed the current UK plans as “too narrow” and imposing “unnecessary limitations on flight options and sector business opportunities”.57 Innovate UK recognised that while there had:

been clear public consultation on a horizontal launch capability [ … ] similar scrutiny is needed for a vertical launch capability and what balance of investment is needed in national rocket technology to make this viable [ … ] this needs proper consideration and integration into the UK’s growth ambitions.58

34.When asked if the Government’s role was to fund a spaceport, or simply to facilitate it, the Minister replied that it was:

much more the latter. We have always made it clear that this is primarily a commercial enterprise. Government’s role is to make sure that there is an enabling regulatory environment and that we work through all the complex regulatory and technical issues that having a space flight capability involves.59

35.Through its promotion of the establishment of a UK Spaceport by 2018, the Government has placed the UK in a prime position to take advantage of the next leap forward in space technology—the development of re-usable, commercial spaceplanes. The focus on a horizontal-only launch capacity, however, may be too narrow and risk limiting the use and value of a UK spaceport to the industry.

36.Before publishing its final ‘technical requirements’ for a UK spaceport, we recommend that the Government sets out the rationale, with supporting evidence, for limiting the scope of the proposed spaceport to accommodating only the horizontal launch of suborbital flights. The Government should also explain how it is ensuring that the spaceport plans will be further refined to meet the needs of UK space and satellite businesses, and what it will do to ensure that the proposal attracts the necessary private investment.

Legacy of Major Tim Peake’s Principia mission

37.Almost 25 years after Helen Sharman became the first British astronaut in space, British ESA astronaut Major Tim Peake joined an elite cadre of men and women who have pushed the boundaries of mankind’s exploration of space. Launching successfully from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 15 December 2015, Major Peake became the first UK Government-funded British astronaut to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). The UK Space Agency estimated that over 24 million watched the launch.60

38.Major Peake’s Principia mission involved undertaking experiments that cannot be conducted anywhere on Earth. He also used the time leading up to the mission, as well as his months on the ISS, to inspire people, especially the next generation, and develop their interest in science. Our witnesses highlighted the success of this aspect of the mission. The range of educational outreach activities, available via the Principia mission website, is broad and engaging, from a national seed growing programme and fitness challenges to a coding competition using data from two ‘Astro Pi’ computers on the ISS.61 UKspace noted that it demonstrated “the value that can be obtained, in terms of excitement and inspiration, from modest UK involvement in human space flight”.62

39.There have also been numerous video and radio link ups with Major Peake by schools, colleges, universities and, indeed, by Parliament. On 2 April 2016, in a first for both the Science and Technology Committee and Parliament, Major Peake contributed to our inquiry evidence from on board the ISS. In a video, he answered questions from our Committee Chair and the Science Minister (a transcript of which is presented in an Appendix to this report). This formed part of the Royal Society of Biology’s annual ‘Voice of the Future’ event, hosted by the Science and Technology Committee in Parliament. 63 We would like to thank Major Peake, the UK Space Agency, ESA, NASA and the Royal Society of Biology for making this possible. Having done so much to raise awareness of the UK space sector, and inspire a nation, our witnesses stressed the importance of keeping the momentum going that has been generated by the Principia mission, “particularly in relation to inspiring young people to take up STEM subjects and careers” (a point we consider further in Chapter 3).64

40.Major Tim Peake, the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and countless others have, together, inspired a nation through their excellent educational outreach and public engagement work around the Principia mission. It is vital that this enthusiasm for space is harnessed and is used to foster an enduring public interest in the UK’s space sector, and the opportunities it holds.

41.We ask the Government to outline its plans to ensure that the legacy of the Principia mission continues to raise public awareness of the UK’s leading role in the global space sector, while also inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers, long after Major Peake returns to Earth.

10 See, for example, ADS (SAT0031); Satellite Applications Catapult (SAT0013)

11 Elizabeth Buchen, Dominic DePasquale, 2014 Nano / Microsatellite Market Assessment, SpaceWorks, 2014

12510 Smallsat Launches Planned Over Next Five Years”, Euroconsult press release, 26 February 2015

13 Q104

14 Airbus Group UK (SAT0016)

15 Q104

16 Royal Academy of Engineering (SAT0044)

17 Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SAT0011); Q125

18 Q28 [Dr Parker]

19 Q105

20 London Economics, The Case for Space 2015, July 2015

21 Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SAT0011); see also UK Space Agency

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

23 Ibid, p 10

24 UK Space Agency, Civil Space Strategy 2012–2016, 2012, p 18

25 Q82

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

27 Q77 [Ruy Pinto]

28 ibid

29 Q5 [Stuart Martin]

30 UKspace and techUK (SAT0020); Satellite Applications Catapult (SAT0013); Royal Astronomical Society (SAT0014)

31 Science and Technology Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2013–14, Work of the European and UK Space Agencies, HC 253, para 19

32 HM Government, National Space Policy, December 2015, p 8

33 Satellite Applications Catapult (SAT0013)

34 UK Space Agency (SAT0042) para 17

35 Q187

36 Q5 [Dr Parker]

37 Q5 [Dr Parker]; Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Roadmap for the use of Earth Observation across Defra 2015–2020, December 2015, p 3

38 Q5 [Dr Parker];

39 Q218

40 Q214 [Professor Boyd]

41 UK Space Agency (SAT0042) para 18

42 Q189

43 PQ 26968 [on Space Technology: Finance] 22 February 2016

44 HM Government, National Space Policy, December 2015, p 14

45Government paves way for UK spaceport”, UK Space Agency press release, 15 July 2014

46Industry backs government’s spaceport plans”, Department for Transport, 3 March 2015

48 HC Deb, 19 May 2016, column 170 [Commons Chamber]

49 Space IGS, Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014–2030, Space Growth Action Plan, November 2013, p 14

50 Royal Astronomical Society (SAT0014), para 36

51 Avanti (SAT0026) para 8.1

52 UKspace and techUK (SAT0020)

53 Department for Transport, Emerging Technical Requirements for a UK Spaceport, 6 November 2015

54 ibid

56 Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) (SAT0011) para 20

57 Discover Space UK Ltd (SAT0005) para 2.2.d

58 Innovate UK (SAT0038) para 39

59 Q181

60 UK Space Agency (SAT0042)


62 UKspace and techUK (SAT0020)

63 Voice of the Future is an annual event, held on the Parliamentary Estate, during which young scientists have the opportunity to question Members of the Committee, Government and shadow Government Ministers and the Government Chief Scientific Adviser on all aspects of science policy.

64 Airbus Group UK (SAT0016); see also Royal Aeronautical Society (SAT0028); Goonhilly Earth Station and the Aerohub Enterprise Zone in Cornwall (SAT0019)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

13 June 2016