Written Evidence Submitted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually, and through international partnerships?
Space is an inherently global domain where few nations can act alone. The high cost and complexity of space activities encourages governments to pool their resource and expertise together to achieve major advancements in science and technology out of reach of individual nations. The fundamentally global nature of space poses a challenge for the UK as an individual space nation, and we therefore need to rely on other nations for access to certain operational capabilities and must rely on international partnership for large space programmes. Further, responsible space nations must take a global view when operating in space, to all play our part in protecting the space domain from hazards like space debris.
The UK, however, has a substantial and growing space sector. The UK space industry income in 2018/19 grew to £16.4bn and represents a 5.1% share of the global space economy with £5.8bn income from exports alone. The new National Space Strategy will build on our strengths and increase our prospects as a partner of choice for international cooperation on space.
As the Integrated Review set out:
We will make the UK a meaningful actor in space, with an integrated space strategy which brings together military and civil space policy for the first time. We will support the growth of the UK commercial space sector, and ensure the UK has the capabilities to protect and defend our interests in a more congested and contested space domain – including through the new Space Command and the ability to launch British satellites from the UK by 2022.
We intend to continue our participation in the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme and will deepen our cooperation with NATO and through the Combined Space Operations (CSpO) initiative. We will also develop our work with bodies including NASA and the European, Canadian, Australian and Japanese space agencies.
The UK’s current international partnerships are determined by the type of activity – for instance we work predominantly with the European Space Agency (ESA) on civil science and technology, with the United States and Five Eyes partners on military matters, and through multilateral fora for issues relating to the exploration and preservation of outer space.
In commerce and trade, the UK depends strongly on domestic space products and services being sold to customers across the globe, with 36% of the sector’s total income coming from exports. The UK collaborates with ESA on technology innovation through programmes such as the Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems programme, which seeks to enable industry to produce leading-edge products and services, including 5G and quantum communications. Outside of ESA, the UK has established new international partnerships for trade in space products and services. For example, the UK-Australian Space Bridge will facilitate trade, investment and knowledge exchange between our space sectors. Domestically, the National Space Innovation Program is funding research and development to help the UK sector develop globally competitive products and services.
In science and exploration, the UK’s ESA membership allows us to collaborate with international partners on globally significant science and human and robotic space exploration missions. The development of the cutting-edge technologies needed for these missions provides significant and long-term pipelines of contracts for the sector, and valuable intellectual property. Government R&D investment has helped the sector to build the instruments and technology to compete for global contracts. The UK has also established bilateral projects to help British industry and academia work directly with the US, Japan and other nations on pioneering space science and technology, including through the National Space Innovation Programme and our participation in the NASA-led Artemis Accords, which the UK signed in 2020.
Space forms a key part of UK security and defence cooperation with close allies, in particular the US, who provide the UK with significant Space Domain Awareness data. The US and UK have shared access and intelligence across a number of space capabilities and are exploring opportunities to create joint UK-US space capabilities in the future. The UK has formally joined the US-led space coalition under Operation OLYMPIC DEFENDER, a multinational effort to strengthen deterrence and enhance resilience. The UK pools space capability access with the Five Eyes (US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and UK) and other international partners to assess future threats in the space domain and understand foreign counter-space programmes.
The UK is at the forefront of international collaboration to explore and preserve outer space for future generations, principally through developing and upholding international law, agreements and norms of behaviour. The UK plays a role in multilateral fora including the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (the crucial vehicle for maintaining safe access to space) and the International Telecommunications Union (setting global agreement on use of electromagnetic spectrum). In October 2020, the UK signed the Artemis Accords. This ground-breaking agreement, led by NASA and signed by eight spacefaring nations, will guide how states should operate in space, as envisaged in the Outer Space Treaty.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base?
The UK space sector has experienced strong and sustained growth. In 2018/19 total UK space industry income grew to £16.4bn, a growth rate of 2.8% per annum since 2016/17. The UK boasts a dynamic space sector and research and innovation base, leading the world in several areas including satellite manufacturing and the design and manufacture of space science instruments. However, gaps also exist in the UK’s space sector and capability. For example, growth is mostly concentrated amongst the very large space enterprises and space sector jobs are distributed unevenly across the United Kingdom. In addition, the UK does not yet have the capability to carry out launch domestically. The National Space Strategy will help address the UK’s limitations and chart the course for our nation’s future in space.
We want to be the first country in Europe to offer small satellite manufacturers a direct end-to-end route to launch, building on the UK’s leading small satellite industry. Not only will this support our thriving space sector but will also attract investment from around the world and throughout the supply chain. Growing the UK’s launch capability will in turn help create new jobs and economic benefits to communities and organisations right across the UK, as well as inspiring the next generation of space scientists and engineers.
In line with the increasing strategic importance of space to the UK’s interests, and the changing nature of the global space sector, the forthcoming National Space Strategy will outline the UK Government’s ambitions for space and provide cross-government strategic direction to future space activities to ensure that the UK’s strengths translate into influence over the critical and emerging technologies that are central to geopolitical competition and our future prosperity.
The UK sector’s industrial and economic strengths include:
The UK’s competitive advantages include:
What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of previous space strategies for the UK and the space strategies of other countries?
Space capabilities support much of the world’s economic and societal value, underpin all aspects of defence operations, and are used for ground-breaking science and research. The ubiquitous nature of space in the modern world means that all countries have vested interests. However, most must make choices about the scale and focus of their ambitions in space based on factors such as national importance and financial feasibility.
The United States and China as the world’s largest economies, for example, can focus much more investment than others and therefore lead the world in space. They can prioritise all of space’s strategic dimensions, stimulating economic development, aiding national security, and growing their science and research efforts, whereas other countries with fewer resources must prioritise spending and make trade-offs to focus on more specific goals.
In the UK, the 2010 Space Innovation and Growth Strategy (IGS) was an industry-led initiative to grow the UK space economy, with an ambition to secure 10% of the global space market and create 100,000 new jobs by 2030. It made a number of recommendations to Government about how space policy and programmes were directed, funded and governed.
Publication of the IGS led to important changes in the governance of Government activities in civil space, including the creation of a UK Space Agency to provide policy advice, set strategy and co-ordinate funding, and a Space Leadership Council to bring together senior Government and sector representatives to set shared priorities. It led to new Government support for the space sector, including a National Space Technology Programme to fund research and development, and a Satellite Applications Catapult (initially set up as the International Space Innovation Centre) to promote new uses for space data. It also led to new sector initiatives in skills, access to finance and regulation.
Building on these foundations, the UK Space Agency published its five-year civil space strategy in 2012, describing steps to drive growth by supporting market and export opportunities, space science, innovation and skills, and the public use of space data. The strategy supported growth in civil space investment and national space capability, including a new programme to enable UK commercial spaceflight services, which will see the first satellites launched from a UK spaceport in 2022, backed by a modern regulatory framework.
In 2014, the National Space Policy set an overarching ambition that aligned civil and defence policy behind a recognition of the strategic importance of space, a commitment to preserve and promote a safe and secure space operating environment, support for the growth of a robust and competitive space sector, and a commitment to work internationally to benefit the UK.
The Government’s civil space strategy and policy over the past decade has used sustained national investment and a leading role in the European Space Agency to help grow the UK space sector from £7.5 billion annual income in 2008/09 to £16.4bn annual income in 2018/19 – over 5% of the global space economy.
We have already taken important steps to address new challenges and opportunities. As nations compete to lead new commercial space markets, we will support innovations that enable UK companies to gain an edge. In May 2018, the UK space sector published Prosperity from Space, identifying over £75bn in global market opportunities for UK space companies. In 2020 the Government established a new National Space Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, to ensure an all-of-government approach to space policy and introduced a new National Space Innovation Programme to help pioneer new space technology.
Government’s new national space strategy will build on this strong foundation and learn from other space nations to ensure the UK’s future leadership in space. As space science and technology increasingly offer solutions to major global challenges, from connectivity to climate change, the new strategy will drive a more integrated approach to space across our national security, economic and scientific domains.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy?
The National Space Strategy is currently in development and will be published in due course. The strategy is a direct response to the increasing strategic importance of space for the UK’s interests and the changing nature of the global space sector. It will set out our high-level ambitions in space to address pressing priorities such as national defence, climate change, and levelling up the economy, while providing cross-government strategic direction to future space activities.
The National Space Council will agree and oversee the development of the space strategy to ensure the UK seizes the huge economic opportunities on offer in space and enables new high-skilled jobs and innovation across the UK.
What needs to be done to ensure the UK has appropriate, resilient and future-proofed space and satellite infrastructure?
It is our ambition that the UK have the ability to monitor, protect, and defend our interests in space by 2030 through a combination of sovereign capabilities and burden-sharing partnerships with our allies. The forthcoming National Space Strategy will be crucial in meeting this ambition through the establishment of an integrated approach across military and civil space policy.
Moreover, as our activity ramps-up in space, it will be crucial to ensure that our approach to space is sustainable, that our regulatory environment is modern and internationally competitive, and our infrastructure is resilient and protected against evolving threats.
Risk Mitigation and Sustainability
The UK plays a leading role in supporting the development of technology for the sustainable and responsible use of space, having invested strongly in European Space Agency (ESA) programmes aimed at preventing collisions in space, improving detection and tracking of objects in space and fielding demonstration missions of active capture and safe de-orbiting of spent satellites. The UK Government has also licensed a number of UK-operated technology demonstration missions for active debris removal in orbit.
The UK Space Agency leads on assessing and mitigating space-based risks to Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). There are strong dependencies between the CNI sectors such as defence operations, communications, aviation and shipping, which the UK Space Agency are engaged in identifying, as well as working to ensure the impact of disruptions to space services is understood and mitigated. As such, the UK Space Agency is developing a comprehensive response framework that includes processes to follow for a range of incidents, including those that may cause deterioration in or complete loss of all satellite capability. We continue to mature our risk-specific response and mitigation plans.
Space weather events can result in sudden and dramatic changes to the operating environment around our planet which can lead to spacecraft damage, orbital decay, service signal disruption or denial, together with ground segment impacts to electronic components and power grids. For spacecraft operators, those relying on access to space for research or to provide services, understanding of the state of the operating environment and changes to this are essential.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) leads coordination across Government and other infrastructure operators to ensure that the impacts of severe space weather events are well understood, and that the appropriate steps are taken to bolster the UK’s preparedness for major space weather events. BEIS is due to publish a new space weather strategy later this year, which proposes undertaking targeted work to better understand the impact of space weather on space-enabled technologies.
With a view to establishing commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launch from UK spaceports from 2022, this Government is committed to enabling a safe and sustainable commercial operating environment through efficient and effective regulation. The Space Industry Act 2018 has been designed to allow for the regulation of a wide range of new commercial spaceflight technologies and activities and an effective regulatory regime will be essential to protecting the safety of people, public, the environment and national security, and is key in building and maintaining public confidence in a UK-based spaceflight market.
The UK has adopted an outcome-focussed regulatory approach, set to be one of the most modern pieces of space legislation in the world which assesses operators on persistent demonstration of safety, security and sustainability and allows operators to choose the methods for mitigating hazards that work best in their circumstances. The regime is non-prescriptive, but takes into account established international best practice, lessons from other high hazard safety case-based industries in the UK and recognised industry standards. This flexible and forward-looking approach is well suited to enable a wide-ranging and rapidly evolving commercial space sector whilst also delivering a robust regulatory regime.
Internationally, the Government also actively participates in several multi-lateral fora, including the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its Subcommittees (UN COPUOS) and the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), as well as a number of bodies defining safety standards. Within these fora, the Government works collaboratively with international partners to define best practice and the associated guidelines that will ensure space remains accessible for future generations.
Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT)
Positioning, Navigation and Timing services are key enablers of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors and underpin our national security and defence interests as well as a wide range of other economic activity. It is therefore vital that the UK approach to PNT safeguards our economy and infrastructure for the long term. This has been clearly recognised in the Integrated Review and we are committed to strengthening the resilience of the PNT services on which our CNI and economy depend.
The UK has a thriving and mature satcom market. The UK Space Agency, alongside other government departments, is investing to reduce barriers to greater integration of satcom to the UK and global communication infrastructure where there is a strong focus on reducing the cost of satcom through mass manufacturing techniques and increasing the diversity of UK-based supply chains. Convergence and coherence with other communication infrastructures is key, as are resilient data connections, flexible ground infrastructure and spectrum access.
Furthermore, with an increasing number of global players developing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite technology, investing in OneWeb enables the UK to join the ranks of leading space-faring nations, be at the forefront of the rapidly evolving space technology, and space satellite market and project influence internationally.
The investment signals the UK’s intention to grow UK based capabilities in the satellite technology value chain and create further opportunities for high-value manufacturing, launch capability, and space data applications to the UK.
 Companies include Airbus, SSTL and Clyde Space.
 £5.6bn will be invested over the next ten years to develop MOD’s SKYNET 6 programme, through Airbus.
 The Space Economy in Figures: How Space Contributes to the Global Economy