Written Evidence Submitted by Space hub Yorkshire (SHY)
Dr Anna E. Hogg (1), Dr Ruth Amey (1), Mandy Ridyard (1), Glenn McCauley (1), Luca Budello (1), Dennis Dokter (1)
Space Hub Yorkshire (SHY) Background
SHY is supporting the growth of the UK’s Space industry across the Yorkshire Region. The SHY consortium brings together Yorkshire Universities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), local government, schools, colleges, government agencies, and commercial partners; harnessing extensive Space expertise to grow a regional Space hub. SHY is part of a UKSA and Catapult national programme that facilitates multi-faculty collaboration across academic institutes and in many adjacent research areas, making expert use of STEM skills to grow the UK Space sector.
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually and through international partnerships?
The Space sector is an enabler of new technology, using STEM skills to advance national capability in quantum telecommunications, space instrumentation design and satellite launch and operations. Earth Observation (EO) satellites collect hundreds of terabytes of data per day, with more collected from aircraft, drones, and automated sensors. Rapid advances are now being made by analysing satellite data using advanced Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques, to gain new insights that improve our understanding of major environmental challenges such as climate change. The UK has identified Space as one of the fastest growing sectors, trebling in size since 2010, employing 42,000 people, and generating income of £14.8 billion each year. However, growth of the UK Space sector is limited by a severe skills shortage which risks missed scientific insights, slow development of emerging technology essential for national defence, and an inability to scale up and grow commercial companies in the UK.
The UK aim for our national Space sector to capture 10% share of the global Space market by 2030 is positive and ambitious, but the focus on achieving this should not necessarily be purely through traditional Space technology. Cross-sector approaches will be important for achieving the target growth, connecting capabilities from adjacent sectors (e.g. aerospace and advanced manufacturing) to increase the quality and accelerate the delivery of Space innovation. This approach should not only support economic growth but also have a focus on developing a sustainable Space sector that underpins national capability in the long term.
Recommendation: The UK’s Space strategy should develop a policy framework to improve our overall understanding of the Space industry and its challenges in local government, with associated local funding opportunities to create innovation pathways across the sector. This will create a common understanding of the barriers to Space innovation, as well as providing a funded mechanism for improving collaborations across businesses, verticals and public sector bodies. For example, developing innovation that is problem focused rather than technology-led, could help the UK Space Strategy deliver solutions for the many societal and environmental challenges that Space technology and data will be a critical tool to help solve.
Recommendation: Growth in the satellite applications sector is predicted to be particularly strong. The UK should connect its Space applications sector with needs of the non-space sectors. Many barriers still exist which prevent early adoption of space technology, such as the acquisition, fusion and delivery of high quality, consistently processed, trusted Space data.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base?
There is a huge opportunity for Space technology in the UK to solve societal problems, e.g. flooding, climate change and to be adopted by both the public and private sector to increase productivity. Smart cities are an excellent example of ways in which adopting innovation have produced smart solutions.
Recommendation: A funding stream should be created for challenge-led innovation that focuses on specific problems, rather than sectors or technologies, to develop cross-sector/cross-technology innovation pathways.
The innovation landscape is complicated. There are a lack of pathways for students with Space skills to spin out entrepreneurial endeavours, as well as for businesses to test and then adopt higher risk new innovations.
Recommendation: Create a research translation fund for small high-risk technology demonstrator projects for either new research innovations or new commercial spin outs. This will be small budget (£20-50k), short term (3 to 6 month) projects that will fail fast or succeed. This already exists for defence applications through DASA, but there is no civil equivalent. This could be delivered through a dedicated Space theme in the new government ‘Advanced Research & Invention Agency’ division.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy, including considerations of skills and diversity?
The UK Space Skills Survey 2020 identified that Space skills are hard to recruit, that relevant courses in HE and FE lag behind industry developments and these courses often lack a Space sector focus. There is a lack of resources in SMEs to provide on-the-job training. This has been addressed through cross-company graduate programmes like ‘RISE’ in Sheffield, in which talented graduates are connected with small and medium-sized enterprises.
Recommendation: Create funded programmes, delivered via universities, catapults and regional space hubs, to train existing staff in SME’s. Investment in graduate programmes like RISE to ensure SMEs can attract and develop soft skills in graduate hires.
No one university has world leading expertise in all parts of the space sector chain, and unlike traditional school subjects, there is no single university faculty that provides all the skills training for the Space sector which spans, maths, physics, engineering, business, law, environmental science, computer science etc. There is a huge opportunity to connect cross-faculty and cross-university institutions, to signpost relevant modules and training courses for undergraduates. A flagship activity of SHY is to establish a Virtual Space Campus across Yorkshire Universities, to solve this problem and to improve the employability of graduates in this sector.
Recommendation: Support the UK’s universities and regional Space hubs to work together and with industry to provide advanced Space skills training, and to develop funded programmes that connect skilled graduates with Space businesses, ensuring the pathway of talent into the sector.
Space is an inspiring subject, and it should be fully exploited to encourage young people into a wide-range of STEM subjects. Participation of primary and secondary pupils in schools outreach programmes enables the broad range of Space relevant school subjects to be promoted (maths, physics, engineering, Earth Sciences, business studies etc), which should also help improve the diversity of the Space sector in the future.
Recommendation: Engage with school aged students through outreach programmes, to showcase how Space skills can be used to tackle important and inspirational science questions, which lead onto technically interesting and rewarding careers in the Space sector.
In the US, the most renowned EDI programmes have identified the vital role that mentoring and summer research internships play in fostering career progression for students from under-represented backgrounds (Domingo et al., 2019). There is huge demand in the UK for undergraduate level summer internship programmes to be established. A pilot project run this summer (2021) received over 360 applications for 16 6-week summer internship placements. In the future we hope to expand this programme across Yorkshire Universities.
Recommendation: Provide funding for universities and regional Space hubs to create summer internship programmes and an alumni network spanning both academia and industry, which will improve employability of graduates and will support the pipeline of talent into the Space sector for local regions across the UK.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy, including considerations of industry?
Early-stage engagement witch industry for research and product development is vital in order to stimulate adoption and maximize impact. Collaborative R&D is difficult to organize, making the creation of regional Space hubs important for safeguarding the inclusion of a number of stakeholders. This allows for a movement from a traditional closed innovation model towards a more open and collaborative approach for both the private and public sector (Heil & Bornemann, 2017). Regional Space hubs can allow us to understand how to manage collaborative R&D and innovation within the Space sector. These hubs will facilitate better exchanges between the upstream and downstream sectors, promoting transdisciplinary innovation in the Space sector.
Recommendation: Fund the growth of UK regional Space hubs which work in close collaboration with local governance to deliver commercial and civil Space innovation, and to build networks across the UK.
Recommendation: Provide funding for early-stage research projects where industry and academia are brought together for knowledge exchange and commercialisation.
Often, funding for multi-year programmes is essential in order to successfully develop, test and operationally implement new Space technology. The current government funding has a tendency to be short-term, ending before successes can be fully demonstrated. Longer term investment (e.g. >3 yrs) is required.
Recommendation: Provide longer-term national funding continuity for Space technology development.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy, including considerations of place?
Advances in digital technology and the active involvement of industry in innovation contribute to the diversity of collaborative innovation spaces and places. A physical or virtual space turns into a place because of the meanings and activities that are associated with it. Improving the infrastructure for both physical and virtual meetings will create a fertile environment for innovation.
Although defined as a sector, the UK Space ecosystem is very fragmented with upstream and downstream having very different business needs and innovation capabilities. It is also fragmented by region, and support is needed for the many new Space hubs to help connect capability within regions and across the UK.
The Government agenda for levelling up the country provides a great opportunity for the UK’s Space Strategy to provide a regional focus and support growing Space hubs across the UK such as SHY, EM3 and Cornwall. These hubs will accelerate innovation by pulling together the strengths of the region across sectors and market verticals. It is important that a national coordinating unit can connect up regional expertise to maximise output and avoid duplication. Through these regional Space hubs, skills pathways can be ensured in Space subjects will also strengthen national capability outside of the regions historically known for having Space expertise.
Recommendation: Fund a programme of dedicated Space skills training at all career levels from Space apprenticeships, T-levels, undergraduate and PhD training in universities and industry training for existing employees in adjacent industries, run through regional Space hubs in collaboration with UKSA and the Catapults.