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Fast-growing UK space industry needs Government coherence and investment

4 November 2022

The £16 billion space and satellite industry in the UK is flourishing finds the Commons Science and Technology Committee in a new Report published today. However, the approach to space policy across Government is “disjointed and unclear” and lacks coherence.

First UK satellite launch plagued by licensing delays

The cross-party group of MPs is “concerned” that the first ever UK satellite launch has been plagued by licensing delays. A Virgin Orbit plane carrying satellites is due to take off this month at Cornwall Spaceport however, the launch still does not have a licence from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). MPs recommend the Government divert more resource to the CAA.

“Concerning” that UK reliant on foreign services for critical PNT

The Committee criticises the Government’s failure to ensure the UK has access to its own secure Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities, needed for critical national infrastructure and defence purposes. The UK’s current reliance on the US's Global Positioning System (GPS) is “concerning”. If blocked from using foreign services in the future, the UK's national security would be put at “severe risk”.

Benefit of $500m public OneWeb stake “still unclear”

The Committee observes that the benefits to UK citizens of the Government’s “unusual” $500 million stake in the OneWeb satellite company remain unclear. MPs call for ongoing scrutiny of the OneWeb investment and ask the Government to report to Parliament yearly on this. The Committee urges the Government to use its so-called ‘golden share’ to seek assurances that OneWeb will manufacture its Gen2 constellation in the UK to capitalise on the UK’s strengths in space and satellite technology and so create jobs and economic benefit. A major shareholder said that this was not guaranteed, contradicting evidence to the inquiry.

Publish Plan B for Copernicus

The Government should publish a 'Plan B' by the end of December 2022, should the UK not be able to participate in EU’s earth observation programme Copernicus. It should include how the €750 million currently set aside for participation would be spent.

Chair's comments

Committee Chair Rt Hon Greg Clark MP said:

“The UK space and satellites industry is world class. From Harwell to Glasgow, our Committee saw first-hand the ingenuity and talent driving forward global discoveries. 

However, the Government’s uncertain and disjointed approach is not realising the industry’s full potential. Better cross-Government coordination is sorely needed to reflect that the space sector is not just economically important, but is central to the UK’s defence, national security, and foreign relations. The scrapping of the National Space Council is clearly a step in the wrong direction and I hope the new Government reconsiders this decision.

There is palpable excitement building around the first launch of a satellite in the UK, which would propel the UK into a new space age. The licensing process needs urgent attention from the Government to ensure there are no further delays to this historic moment, and the UK continues to attract satellite launches of global importance.”

The disbanding of the National Space Council under the Truss Government is “set to undo” recent space policy gains as it makes responsibilities of public bodies involved in space “very unclear” and prevents productive decisions. MPs demand an explanation for this decision and for clarity on new governance structures of the National and Defence Space Strategies.

Further information

Image: MOD