UK space strategy and UK satellite infrastructure – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Science and Technology Committee

Related inquiry: UK space strategy and UK satellite infrastructure

Date Published: 4 November 2022

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The use of space and satellites is essential for day-to-day life: satellites support a range of public services such as navigation, weather forecasting and, telecommunications. It is estimated that over £360 billion (about 17%) of the UK’s non-financial business GDP per year is dependent on satellites and that the negative financial impact of the UK losing access to global navigation systems could be as high as £5.2 billion for a five day disruption.

In the past few years, the Government has signalled its support for the UK space industry, with investments made to establish UK launch sites and the publication of the National Space Strategy and the Defence Space Strategy. The Government also made a significant investment when it purchased the satellite communications company OneWeb. Despite these interventions, the Government’s strategy for the UK space industry lacks coherence and more must be done to secure the sector’s future success. There have also been significant concerns about the Government’s investment in OneWeb.

The Government must also improve its approach to leadership on space. Currently, the approach to space policy across Whitehall is disjointed and unclear. This has been exacerbated by the National Space Council, which was only established in 2020, being disbanded earlier this year without explanation or clarification of new governance arrangements. The Government must clarify the new governance arrangements for space and publish detailed implementation plans for the National Space Strategy, which lacks specifics and a clear programme of work.

It is disappointing that the first launch from UK did not take place in summer 2022 as was originally proposed. At the time of writing, no date for a launch has been set. To ensure this launch takes place as soon as possible and that other launches follow soon thereafter, the Government must make sure that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), who award required licences, is appropriately resourced to issue them quickly.

Since the UK lost access to the secure Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) provided by the European Union’s Galileo system, the Government has failed to take appropriate action to ensure that the UK has access to secure PNT should the US’s Global Positioning System (GPS) fail. Although a significant amount of money and time has been invested across Government into investigating and planning a UK PNT system, the Government has failed to publish the outcomes of these investigations. We urge the Government to publish a National PNT Strategy and set out what ground and space-based components will be used in a UK PNT system.

The Government’s purchase of OneWeb was carried out under exceptional circumstances and it is still unclear what benefits the investment will bring to the UK public. Given the unusual investment, the Government should avoid making similar purchases. Further, given the considerable public investment, the Government should report to Parliament on the state of the Government’s investment in OneWeb on a yearly basis.

To ensure the success of the space sector more broadly, interventions are required to inspire a diverse range of people to train and take up jobs within the sector. Whilst the clustering of space companies in Glasgow and at the Harwell Space Cluster has brought many benefits to the sector, focus should be placed on spreading the success of the sector across the country. The UK should also think globally and continue its strong association with the European Space Agency, whilst seeking connections to collaborate with other allies.