Written Evidence Submitted by techUK

(SPA0042)

 

Executive summary

 

 

The UK has a strong foundation in Space upon which to build with some particular areas of strength, including Quantum, Small Satellites (SmallSats) and Earth Observation. To deliver on its ambition to capture 10% of the Global Space market by 2030, more proactivity, investment and support is needed to grow the downstream Space market in particular, with a particular emphasis on space ecosystems, technology research and supporting start-ups to make the transition to scale-ups. The US model of government investment in defence-related space projects to drive the commercial space sector and act as an anchor tenant is one the government could look to follow, but techUK members have also suggested other ways the government can grow and support the space structure.

 

 

Topics:

 

1.       What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually and through international partnerships;

 

1.1 techUK recognises the strategic importance of Space to the UK’s future prosperity and security, demonstrated by the UK Government’s stated ambition to capture 10% of the global Space market by 2030, essentially doubling its current market share. The UK has a vibrant space economy. It already accounts for 6% of total global Space investment, second only to the US. Space clusters are developing in areas such as Harwell, Oxfordshire, Leicester Space Park, and Westcott, Buckinghamshire. In addition, Scotland produces more small satellites than any other country in Europe.

 

1.2 techUK believes that the UK is a beacon for innovation and progress, mainly due to investment by the private sector, a stable regulatory framework, and a sophisticated environment with a wide range of players downstream. To fulfil the ambition of the UK to truly be part of the Tier 1 Space nations, political leadership as well as joined up action from different parts of government is required. Space itself is an increasingly challenged domain with adversaries catching up technologically, having studied commercial and military satellites of the UK and its allies.

 

1.3 techUK believes the UK has a natural advantage that it should aim to maintain because of the high number of satellite operators and capacity providers that are locally established compared to many other nations. techUK would like to highlight the benefit this brings in maintaining the UK’s global position in the Space market, and as such this natural advantage should be valued and sustained by ensuring fair rules of competition and equal support across the whole industry. However, it is crucial that the UK correctly prioritises its objectives and capabilities, and plays to its existing and potential strengths.

 

1.4 techUK would argue that the UK has a strong foundation upon which to build – but also needs to identify the right mechanisms for delivering on its ambition. Some suggestions from techUK members include:

 

1.41 A more proactive approach in engaging with the upstream AND downstream elements of the UK Space sector, from both an R&D and commercialisation perspective. As nearly 75% of UK Space Industry revenues are generated from downstream services (according to know.space)[1], downstream players need to be engaged and listened to;

1.42 Focus on incentivising, creating, and sustaining Space ecosystems in the UK – from closer links with academia, developing and attracting the necessary skills in STEM, attracting increased R&D funding, and launching start-up / SME accelerator programmes, with an emphasis on partnerships;

1.43 An increase in government space expenditure – according to Euroconsult’s Government Space Programme 2019 report[2], the UK’s expenditure in 2018 was $894m, compared with $1,127m for Italy, $2,151 for Germany and $3,158m for France. The investment in OneWeb is a clear statement of intent, but the UK still lags well behind in the second tier of Space nations.

 

2.       What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base;

 

Strengths

 

2.1 techUK recognises that the UK has a vibrant Space start up community thanks in part to an attractive regulatory and policy environment. However, although the UK has been successful in attracting start up investment, it is less successful in seeing these start-ups develop and mature into scale-ups.

 

2.2 techUK believes that the strengths of the current UK Space sector are based on the broad range of Space stakeholders, specially both existing and new satellite operators, capacity providers and application developers. It is therefore important to maintain this competitive and encouraging environment for all.

 

2.3 techUK notes that the UK is also home to important start-ups and equipment suppliers for the Space sector, making it clear that the conditions for investors are favourable. In addition, stable and predictable regulation in the Space sector is important – it is essential for the regulator to have the capacity to execute its policy with transparent processes. 

 

2.4 techUK welcomes the clear public commitment from the Prime Minister and HMG, which will also help to promote the UK’s R&D base. This R&D base includes some real pockets of innovation, such as in SmallSats (e.g., Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd in Guildford and Clyde Space in Glasgow), Quantum Computing and in Earth Observation (e.g., National EO Centre in Leicester) – whilst the R&D capabilities here are strong, the UK is less able to successfully downstream and monetise these. 

 

2.5 techUK believes that the UK needs greater academic focus on Space technology research – there are some areas of strength, such as the University of Surrey, the University of Leicester, and the University of York, but more is needed. Developments such as new antennas are going to be critical to delivering greater efficiency in Space technology delivery, which in turn will help drive down costs and open up the market to more use cases.

 

2.6 techUK would like to see HMG encourage more start-ups to be spun out from academia, and support their growth through the creation of regional incubation centres across the country to support their mature to become scale-ups.

 

3.       Weaknesses

 

3.1 techUK members suggested that the UK Space sector is currently too focused on procurement of new technologies as opposed to what is in the longer term national interest. Moreover, beyond investment in OneWeb and MOD funding, there is little tangible government investment and little anchor tenancy, which is an area where the US and France are ahead of the UK.

 

3.2 techUK members also noted that there is a continuing skills gap in the UK, with a lack of STEM graduates on the market and competition from other sectors making these graduates harder to retain in the sector.

 

4.       What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of previous space strategies for the UK and the space strategies of other countries;

 

Domestic

 

4.1 techUK members stressed that there is a need to help provide support to start-ups and SMEs who may not have the resources or personnel to engage in the development and implementation of strategies and recommendations in the Space sector.

 

4.2 techUK believes that one of the most important lessons learned in the Space industry is that to succeed and promote innovation and advancement, it is crucial to maintain a stable competitive environment, where private and public investment is committed to improve competition amongst players. It has been shown that the private sector drives technological development, and that it is key to protect private sector investment by making sure there is a level playing field for all participants, regardless of their place in the industry.

 

International

 

4.3 Looking at France, Italy, and Germany, all three countries make the success of the Space sector a key government priority and invest larger amounts than the UK. In particular, they invest both into the European Space Agency and champion their own national programmes. techUK members suggested this was something that the UK should consider emulating.

 

4.4 Additionally, techUK members suggested that the UK should look at how the US drives the commercial Space sector development through its investment in defence-related Space programmes. As an anchor tenant in effect, the US Government helps facilitate significant amount of innovation and successful downstreaming.

 

4.4 techUK members also suggested that the UK needs to focus more on supporting the downstream development and scaling up of new services, not just the upstream element.

 

4.5 techUK believes Space is an international sector by definition. Government outreach and recognised agreements with other Space nations to share technology developments, mutually recognise market access, as well as conformity assessment for equipment is therefore key to the UK’s success.

 

4.6 Finally, techUK members suggested that Space is a fragile environment, and it is paramount that UK leads the efforts to manage the risk for pollution or accidents in space.

 

5.       What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy, including considerations of: 

 

 

5.1 techUK members believe the UK should be developing national vehicles to deliver on its Space ambitions across existing and new opportunity areas, coupled with a broader approach to the development of the UK-wide ecosystem, the future talent pipeline and underlying fundamental research.

 

5.2 techUK believes that effective Space policy which supports the domestic Space sector is increasingly important, with growing competition over both the availability of Space for constellations and the need for sovereign capabilities. This is most clearly apparent in the context of satellite communications, with it now recognised that communications networks are a vital part of UK critical national infrastructure (CNI) and growing consensus around the need for effective security and resilience capability.

 

Research funding, investment, and growth

5.3 techUK members suggested that the new Space Strategy should include a commitment to create regional centres of expertise/excellence that deliver space skills, education and training and promote collaboration between regional companies.

 

5.4 techUK members also think the UK should focus on the broader distribution of skills, education, and training capabilities, rather than focusing on a few specialised locations. Members noted the importance of industry-academia collaboration, and it was suggested that this could be done by:

 

5.41 Encouraging wider fundamental research in satellite concepts, technologies, and applications;

5.42 Funding more collaborative research focused on accelerating space technologies from TRL 2/3 to TRL 6/7;

5.43 Facilitating research fellowships/chairs/secondments between academia and industry.

 

5.5 techUK members suggested that HMG programmes also need to facilitate the demonstration of missions specifically to deliver converged satellite-terrestrial infrastructure driven by service provider requirements, e.g., demand pull, not technology or satellite operator push:

 

5.6 techUK members noted that some mechanisms already exist in terms of sources of funding, although they sometimes suffer from lack of coherence, e.g., across UKSA/ESA and Innovate UK;

 

Civil and Defence Applications

5.7 techUK believes there needs to be a balanced approach to Space across HMG and internationally by building in resource dedicated to Space in government departments. To do this, techUK members suggested making better use of defence funding (e.g., Skynet) and by blending military Satcom with commercial Satcom.

Regulations:

5.8 techUK believes that if the UK is to remain internationally competitive, UK Space regulations need to be more outcome focussed, better reflecting the current and anticipated Space market, and avoiding over burdensome and over prescriptive requirements. For example: current satellite licensing fees are not proportionate and pose a significant financial burden on large constellation operators, and a lack of transparency and consistency over insurance and liability requirements creates significant uncertainty for those seeking to operate in the UK.

 

5.9 techUK notes that although the recent Space Industry Act 2018 is welcome and paves the way for Space launch in the UK, it should not be seen as ‘job done’. It will be essential to keep UK Space legislation and regulations under constant review to ensure they are keeping pace as new technologies come on-line and other countries rapidly increase their space capabilities and ambitions.

 

International Considerations

5.10 Removing global barriers to business, possibly through wider trade deals:

 

5.11 Ensuring easy, timely and cost-effective access to licenses for ground station operations in other countries;

 

5.12 Reducing overseas customs restrictions, delays and costs when importing equipment into other countries to support service delivery;

 

5.13 Fostering disruptive thinking and solutions and promoting the UK as global thought leader in Space:

 

5.14 Encouraging and developing disruptive business models that lower the cost of Space-based services;

 

5.15 Supporting the demonstration and piloting of radical new Space/HAPS technologies in early stages of development;

 

Space Sustainability:

5.16 techUK believes that ensuring the long-term, sustainable use of Space should be a major theme underpinning the UK’s entire Space Strategy - covering domestic operations, as well as a key aim for the UK to continue to promote and build consensus internationally. The UK should continue to advocate for better, more uniform safety practices internationally based on an up-to-date assessment of industry trends and practices.

Technology:

 

5.17 techUK members recommend the UK Space Strategy focus on the following technological developments and strengths:

 

5.18 Satellite-terrestrial convergence and integration (including supporting associated management systems as well as applications and services) across all applications and service types, e.g.:

 

5.181 Broadband networks: direct to fixed or mobile user and community/backhaul solutions;

 

5.182 Secure networking: Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), quantum networks, post-quantum security;

 

5.183 IoT networks: direct to sensor and aggregated backhaul solutions;

 

5.184 Data applications: combined Earth Observation (EO)/IoT data analytics platforms;

 

5.185 Positioning, Navigation and Timing services, including timing networks, Connected Autonomous Vehicles, and drone applications;

 

5.186 Elements of all the above to provide resilience in UK CNI: for example, supporting blue light services, disaster/incident response, key business/industry sites;

 

5.187 Development of commercial opportunities through rounded consortia match-making and easy transition from development and trials to commercial operations;

 

5.19 Global leadership in Space-based quantum technologies and services:

 

5.191 Sensors for natural resource survey, situational awareness, and other applications;

5.192 Clocks for positioning, navigation and timing applications and services (see below);

5.193 Security (Quantum Random Number Generation (QRNG), QKD, quantum communications) and convergence / integration with terrestrial equivalents;

 

5.20 Sovereign PNT capabilities for:

 

5.201 Timing/positioning capabilities specifically for UK core CNI applications;

 

5.202 National and international telecoms network timing and synchronisation services (5/6G+, GPS independence);

 

5.203 CAV and drone corridor operations including networked radar;

 

5.21 High Altitude Platform Stations:

 

5.211 Flight platform development including hydrogen power systems, hydrogen and electric engines, aircraft, and dirigible platforms;

 

5.212 Application and service development and terrestrial integration as outlined above;

 

5.22 Governance of space utilisation:

 

5.221 As orbits become more populated and satellite operators consider using Mission Extension Vehicles (MEVs), the risk of catastrophic collisions and domino effect of debris impact on satellites needs to be best managed and good practice developed;

 

5.23 techUK believes that the success of the UK Space Strategy will highly depend on the inclusiveness of the policy. It is key to identify and promote the different parts of the industry that are drivers of growth by highlighting their importance in the ecosystem and creating the conditions and stimulus that would allow those to develop. Putting forward and investing in Space as a catalyst for growth in the overall UK national economy as well as for global export will highlight the value and importance of the sector to other industries that impact the success of Space stakeholders, such as the financial sector, defence, and government services sectors.

 

6         What needs to be done to ensure the UK has appropriate, resilient, and future-proofed space and satellite infrastructure for applications including:

 

 

6.1 techUK members did not provide comments on weather forecasting or earth observation.

 

Navigation systems

 

6.2 Space based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) has a key role in delivering reliable and accurate PNT to users now and in the future, and techUK members welcome the investment in the SBPP programme and its place in the UK Space Strategy. However, members are concerned that some of the benefits and opportunities of deploying a sovereign space based PNT system are being lost:

 

6.21 techUK members recognise that resilience is a key driver for pursuing a sovereign space based PNT system. However, there are substantial opportunities for beyond resilience - economic growth, smart living, net zero, and public safety - if a system is designed with a view towards the emerging applications that are not well served by current Space-based PNT systems. These opportunities can be a major contributor to the business case for building a sovereign system. The UK Space Strategy should set a broad set of objectives for a sovereign Space-based PNT system in terms of the benefits that should be delivered to the UK.

 

6.22 techUK members believe that Space-based PNT does not stand alone as a source of PNT. The UK National PNT Strategy, when it is adopted, will identify a role for Space-based PNT within a system of systems view of PNT sources for users in the UK. That will include both other UK sources, as well as sources that are outside the UK’s influence (e.g., GPS and Galileo). The National Space Strategy should recognise that a sovereign Space-based PNT system cannot be developed independently of other PNT assets, both within the UK and internationally.

 

6.23 techUK notes that the UK has a number of strategies and initiatives in the application area (e.g., autonomous vehicles, renewable energy, rail, smart cities) that would benefit from a closer relationship with Space services, including PNT, and the UK Space Strategy should recognise and foster those links.

 

6.24 techUK notes that in PNT, the market for downstream equipment, services and applications dwarfs the upstream market for build and delivery of PNT systems. A UK Space Strategy should closely tie these exploitation opportunities to the development of a sovereign Space-based PNT system, to help grow the UK presence in this global market, and to foster international relationships and partnerships.

 

6.25 techUK members note that the skills gap remains a critical risk in the PNT sector in the UK, and globally. Many of the skills required in the PNT sector are shared with the broader Space sector, and with adjacent sectors (e.g., Defence, Communications, IT, Aerospace, Cyber, Transport). The National Space Strategy should recognise and plan for a more holistic approach to developing the skills required in the UK as a whole, while ensuring that the Space and PNT sectors remain competitive to attract the talent that they require.

 

Communication (including broadband):

 

6.26 techUK believes the Space Strategy should consider the benefits and enhanced capabilities the new generation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites will bring, especially for providing ubiquitous, high-speed, low-latency, and resilient broadband connectivity in support of both domestic and global objectives. Moreover, techUK members stated that 30mbps or more is already viable on satellites and should be considered as a potential option.

 

6.27 techUK believes the UK Space Strategy should also acknowledge the importance of spectrum in providing critical services, ensuring that the UK takes a leading and proactive role globally to promote and defend international rules and best practice regarding the use of spectrum, e.g., through the International Telecommunications Union. When jurisdictions or operators ignore these rules (for geopolitical or commercial gain), satellite services can be significantly negatively impacted, leading to the potential loss of critical services and uncertainty for operators.

 

6.28 techUK members suggested it would be helpful if Ofcom could play a more active role in identifying and securing appropriate frequency bands and orbital slots for UK operators and system proposals at the ITU level.

 

6.29 techUK members notes that for commercial satellites long term access to spectrum is key, as is access to funding on a technology neutral basis (e.g., USF).

 

6.30 techUK believes that a key driver to guarantee that the UK has appropriate satellite infrastructure is recognising and promoting the competition and protection of the private sector, which brings an array of technologies, applications, and services to provide the UK with a large variety of market opportunities. Making sure that there are competitive conditions and fair opportunities for all satellite players to approach the market, without unreasonable allowances and benefits, will generate a healthy and flourishing industry that will indeed see opportunities to cover the demand for services as across navigation systems, weather forecasting, earth observation and communications.

 

 

(June 2021)


[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/987497/know.space-Size_Health2020-SummaryReport-FINAL_May21.pdf

[2] https://digital-platform.euroconsult-ec.com/product/government-space-programs/