Written Evidence Submitted by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually and through international partnerships;
British companies like Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) have proven it is possible for UK organisations to become global leaders in certain specialities of space technology. As a home-grown company, SSTL has pioneered low cost access to space using small satellites: it has launched 70 space missions for customers all over the world and secured more than one billion pounds of export orders for the UK. SSTL designs, manufactures and operates satellites for commercial and institutional companies in over 20 countries worldwide, including building the first Galileo test satellite and subsequently all 34 payloads for the Galileo operational system for the EU.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base;
The UK space sector has a diverse value chain with over 1000 companies in the value chain but the UK space budget is small in size in comparison to the budgets of the US, the European Union, Japan, and Russia. The UK has a unique differentiator in low cost access to space through two capabilities: small satellites which has already been established as a wold leading capability and now, the potential to bolster this with a UK launch capability. The regulatory environment in the UK is attractive for new companies and small satellites have transformed the space industry with their ability to create new capabilities in communications, climate monitoring, weather prediction, space exploration and defence, all within modest budgets. The UK is an attractive place to create new space companies and as a result, has an abundance of success stories including OneWeb, SSTL, AAC ClydeSpace and Astroscale based in the UK.
Small satellites are forecast to dominate in the coming decade and so it is important for the UK to be pursuing its own space programme to maintain the competitive edge with a burgeoning highly-skilled industry so that the UK can lead the world as a showcase for adoption of new space-based services.
What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of previous space strategies for the UK and the space strategies of other countries;
The UK has suffered from a lack of a long-term vision supported by a long-term commitment to space. By comparison, China has had a consistent, coherent, funded space plan spanning 3 decades that has transformed their industry and international standing in space (whether we like it or not!).
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy, including considerations of:
As demonstrated by the number of international lunar programmes recently declared, as well as the strong share of public-private partnerships in specific domains like lunar service infrastructure or lunar transport services, lunar exploration is a popular way for governments to develop space capabilities within their space industry, generate work as return through the UK space and non-space value chain, and promote their image with a flag-ship lunar programme, inspiring STEM students and the general public.
In fact, the UK Government has been at the forefront of Lunar service development, in commercial partnership between ESA, NASA and UK industry.
ESA announced recently, in May 2021, an initiative called Moonlight. The aim of Moonlight is to establish a permanent lunar infrastructure capable of providing communication and navigation services to any international asset in orbit or on the surface of the Moon.
Rewinding back 6 years ago to the origin of this initiative… SSTL was already working hand in hand with UKSA to conceive the lunar commercial services concept and build a business plan for its first and second implementation. UKSA then supported UK industry through a commercial partnership with ESA to lead 2 dedicated studies.
The combination of the successes of Lunar Pathfinder and the preliminary study were followed by the ESA Moonlight announcement.
Is it obvious that supporting lunar exploration with sustainable services shared infrastructure is the right way to go to space? Perhaps now but not 6 years ago when the UK chose to believe in it. We recommend the UK Space Strategy capitalises on the first mover advantage already established with Pathfinder on UK funding, and support the next generation (Moonlight).
We believe that lunar exploration is one of the very few exploration areas that can provide a commercial return on investment.
The Lunar communication and navigation services business case, in the long run and with the right support at the start, provides a return on investment. More importantly, it provides a return in the service provision, which then propagates through the value chain.
In addition, lunar services can easily be “monetised” by the UK space agency in order to barter deals with other space agencies. This has recently been done by ESA with NASA for Lunar Pathfinder, but further interest with agencies like Canada, Japan and Australia can be looked at both ESA and national levels, with opportunity for barter and knowledge transfer, which SSTL excels at.
Finally, in terms of high level jobs creation, lunar missions are both attractive and challenging products, which capture the imagination of STEM students and general public alike, and contribute to the overall promotion of the government space strategy.
In conclusion, having lunar exploration infrastructure ticks all the boxes for an encompassing space strategy. It takes care of prestige, technological excellence, international collaboration, private-public partnership, high value job creation, STEM promotion, spill-over from space to non-space sector. It is an opportunity for the UK to make a significant contribution to international lunar exploration building upon our national strengths and within a sensibly-affordable budget.
Space robotics will change the shape and scope of the space industry and business in this decade, with in-orbit servicing, in-orbit assembly of satellites and in due course the in-orbit manufacture of largely software-defined satellites. The UK has substantial capability in this area (Surrey is leading the UK Hub on Space Robotics & Autonomous Systems) and this offers an opportunity for the UK to be a leading player in this transformational development.
Skills and diversity;
Space is an inspirational industry that fires the imagination of many and has a flow down of skills and technology. The UK should invest in all levels of the required skilled work force from apprenticeships and PhDs, to be able to build and shape the future space technologies. The Space industry is a multi-national effort with many nations taking part and often missions involving multiple states, UK industry should have a level playing field in all aspects including access to the best talent available.
The skilled space workforce can also utilise their skills in many different fields of engineering, this is of course a huge benefit, but also means if there are gaps in demand the skills can be lost from the industry and with it the capability.
Research funding, investment and economic growth;
No responseCivil and defence applications;
Solving the urgent need to achieve a net-zero carbon society to address the threat of climate change will require tough decisions on limited budgets. Embracing and building on the UK’s positioning in cutting edge science, engineering and technology offers great potential to support achieving the government’s overarching strategic goals. An ambitious National Space Strategy and programme, including a substantial civil Earth Observation element can make a major contribution towards these goals. The UK can benefit from existing European Space Agency programmes such as ESA Scout and TRUTHS where the UK has leading roles in high profile missions in Climate Science. However, the industry is on the cusp of a new era of growth in space based services, from communications to the cleaning up the debris left behind by defunct space missions. To compete alongside other nations in the next decade the UK must do much more to control her own destiny or otherwise risk missing out on this important aspect of economic growth.
The OECD report “Measuring the Economic Impact of the Space Economy” reports that space activities have impacts far beyond commercial revenues, with spill overs in many segments of the economy, for instance in agriculture, transport and the environment. The London Economics report Spill Overs in the Space Sector, commissioned by UKspace shows that private benefit of R&D to innovators (i.e. ripple effects) appear to be approximately £3-4 in impact for each £1 of public expenditure, with the spill over impacts to the broader public being significantly larger.
One of the aims of National Space Strategy should combine the highly regarded position as a member of the European Space Agency (every £1 of investment in the European Space Agency, delivers £10 back to the economy) with a new National Earth Observation Programme. This should include a capability roadmap with a horizon of at least ten years to attract private investment and competition in the UK market.
In order to sustain introduction of new services it is crucial to invest in the upstream technologies which are the building blocks of future UK capabilities. The lag between investments and spill overs impacts for space projects are in the order of 3-5 years, with impacts realised sooner for companies providing downstream services or contract manufacturing services, and longer for companies developing their own products
The UK is the only member of the UN Security Council without a national satellite Earth observation capability that affords it a measure of freedom of action. If the UK is to have sovereign capabilities the National Space Strategy must support upstream manufacturing in Earth observation, not just downstream services which promise faster return on investment.
The London Economics report for the Size & Health of the UK Space Industry in 2018 stated that Earth Observation satellite services support £92 billion of the nation’s GDP (4.7%), and the industry ecosystem is found to be widespread throughout the UK. It is one of the most productive sectors returning more worth £14.8 billion to the UK economy.
National Space Strategy should recognise that the sector is an ecosystem which requires balanced support. Government must identify its strategic needs and commit to procuring its own space capabilities through competition, stimulating the whole value chain.
To stimulate more private investment, the UK space sector must be supported by government policy which stimulates innovation through competition. This means government establishing a long term roadmap from which industry can build a case for investment itself.
Innovative procurement methods which have the support of the treasury could be one way of rapidly stimulating innovation through competition.
International considerations and partnerships
The Five Eyes alliance remains the foundation structure for collaboration with the UK’s most trusted allies. The shift from GEO to LEO and towards constellations creates a natural route towards a stronger focus on CANZUK aligned constellation missions for ISR and SDA. Such an approach would both strengthen the FVEY alliance and would create a better multiplying effect of UK capability vis-a-vis the US FVEY asset dominance.
SSTL is a key player in the UK’s RAF ARTEMIS programme to develop a sovereign ISR capability and with SSTL’s established mission heritage with Five Eyes Nations it has the capability and track record to lead international collaboration missions.
In the context of post Brexit Global Britain, a stronger focus on ties with the Five Eyes Anglosphere should be considered with greater support for international job mobility, such as the creation of Space Technology Skills Work Visa to ensure that the UK has access to key Space technology skills.
Systematically building out bilateral / trade agreements to support the UK space industry is critically important. Within this global approach a prioritisation of Five Eyes nations should be considered as such countries have similar technological capability, a common language and close business and legal processes – creating a solid framework for Space collaboration. The UK/Australia Space Bridge initiative is a good example of a bilateral agreement designed to nurture space collaboration and such an approach could be broadened to other Five Eyes nations such as Canada.
It is also in the UK interest to develop other bi/multi-lateral international links in space – especially with developing or emerging space nations and nations where the UK has recently signed new trade agreements such as Japan which has a $4.14 billion budget for space activities.
There is a need to encourage ‘levelling up’ in space across the UK but not at the cost of supporting existing centres of commercial excellence that will be essential to flourish and support the newer players.
Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites operate in an orbit which is highly attractive for many applications including 5G communication services and climate science. A UK LEO technology demonstration mission should be included within the new National Space Strategy to assist UK companies improve their competitiveness in a growth market.
What needs to be done to ensure the UK has appropriate, resilient and future-proofed space and satellite infrastructure for applications including:
The sovereign satellite navigation requirements should be output from “Position Navigation and Time (PNT) Office “described in the draft Cabinet Office report: “Position Navigation and Timing Strategy”. The UK has a highly skilled Industry capable of providing the required sovereign solution, however, the delay in implementing the strategy is causing concomitant delays in providing a UK Sovereign solution. All other United Nations (UN) Permanent 5 members of the Security Council have sovereign control of PNT systems, UK industry could match this whilst providing a backbone for the UK space industry and guaranteeing control over this fundamental building block of our modern economy.
The satellite-derived time and position Blackett review, highlighted the dependencies of the UK on PNT and the economic impact on the UK of a disruption to GNSS is detailed in the LSE report from June 2017 detailed the economic reliance on GNSS.
The UK the UK is a world-leading meteorological centre and we should build on this by supporting small scale entrepreneurial weather missions (solar and terrestrial) as well as the large scale institutional lead missions.
Earth observation including climate change;
The UK has access to flagship programmes as a member of the European Space Agency (ESA) and benefits from being part of large projects where large costs are shared.
However, not all applications necessitate such large expenditure and ESA itself has recently come under pressure to adopt efficiencies from the commercial industry for its own Earth observation programme. One of the first fruits of the new philosophy are science missions with commercial budgets. The Scout programme, first run in 2019, saw SSTL selected to deliver a much needed climate monitoring capability, called HydroGNSS, for less than €30m.
HydroGNSS will take measurements of key hydrological climate variables, including soil moisture, freeze thaw state over permafrost, inundation and wetlands, and aboveground biomass, using GNSS reflectometry. Knowledge of these variables helps scientists understand climate change and contributes towards weather modelling, ecology mapping, and agricultural planning and flood preparedness. It will complement missions such as ESA’s SMOS and Biomass, Copernicus Sentinel-1 and NASA’s SMAP. HydroGNSS is a UK led small satellite mission which will be designed, built and operated in the UK.
What is important to note is that seed funding to develop the technology for the HydroGNSS mission came originally from R&D programme run by the UK Centre for Earth Observation.
While organisations like ESA and NASA adopt low cost access to space methodologies and small satellites, the UK does not currently have any plans of its own. To move towards a net-zero society and utilise space technology to address the threat of climate change the UK must develop a long term space programme of its own in Earth observation to create opportunities for the UK to benefit from the advantages of small satellites.