Written Evidence Submitted by the Royal Society

(SPA0049)

 

Key points: 

 

 

 

 

Introduction: 

 

  1. The Royal Society is the National Academy of Science for the UK. It is a Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists working across a broad range of disciplines in academia and industry. The Society draws on the expertise of its Fellows and Foreign Members to provide independent and authoritative scientific advice to UK, European and international decision makers.  

 

  1. The Society’s fundamental purpose, reflected in its founding Charters of the 1660s, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Our strategic priorities therefore are to promote excellence in science; to support international collaboration; and to demonstrate the importance of science to everyone.  

 

  1. The Society welcomes the Committee’s inquiry into UK space strategy and UK satellite infrastructure and the opportunity to submit evidence. The Society is in the process of initiating a project on space, chaired by Professor Sir Martin Sweeting OBE FREng FRS, and would be happy to engage with the Committee as this inquiry progresses. This brief submission draws on the evidence gathering that has been conducted ahead of project initiation, which we would be happy to share with Committee staff to support this inquiry.

 

  1. The benefits of assets in space are embedded throughout our everyday lives. Space-based technologies underpin communication systems, weather forecasting, navigation and much more, making space part of our critical national infrastructure. Space is also considered highly beneficial to securing national security, making scientific advancements, forging international partnerships, levelling up, and achieving sustainability goals through tackling global societal challenges, such as climate change.

 

  1. The UK space industry is one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors. Growing by 62% in real terms since 2009/2010, the UK space industry income rose to £16.4 billion in 2018/20191. An estimated £702 million was spent on space-related research and development in 2018/2019 and the UK has a 5.1% share of the global space economy1. The UK space sector demonstrates high productivity levels, equalling 2.6 times the average UK labour productivity1. In total, the UK space industry employs at least 45,100 individuals and in 2018/19, the UK space industry is estimated to have directly contributed 0.3% of total UK GDP1.

 

  1. The UK government has set out its ambition to secure the UK’s “status as a Science and Tech Superpower by 2030”2, committing to increase public funding for R&D to £22 billion per year by 2024/25 and UK investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Strategic support and investment in the UK’s space sector could be a key contributor to realising this ambition.

 

  1. Given that space forms part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure and our dependency on space assets is set to increase with the growth of this sector, it is also important that appropriate steps are taken to increase resilience and protect national security. It is estimated that just a short and temporary disruption to satellite services could cost the UK almost £1 billion in damages a day[4].

 

  1. Space assets enable a broad range of capabilities across military, civilian and commercial sectors. The recently formed National Space Council plans to deliver a cohesive cross-government UK space strategy that addresses both military and civilian activities for the first time2. However, the extent to which these will be integrated is still unknown.

 

  1. Alignment of the UK space strategy with other government strategies, including the Place Strategy and Innovation Strategy, may also provide a further opportunity to grow the space sector and ensure its benefits are felt across the whole of the UK.

 

Challenges and Opportunities:

 

  1. To realise the benefits of the UK space sector, there are challenges and opportunities that should be considered by the planned UK Space Strategy. These include but are not limited to:

 

  1. Investment: By 2030, the UK aims to reach a 10% share of the global space economy[5]. Despite the launch of the National Space Innovation Programme, national UK public investment remains much less than competing space faring nations[6]. The current UK Space Agency annual budget of £500 million is a third of the French equivalent, and less than half of Germany’s6. Incentives to increase private investment and encourage public-private collaborations will be important to boost investment in the UK space sector.

 

  1. Sovereignty: The UK is becoming increasingly dependent on space assets operated overseas. Whilst France, Germany and the US are all developing sovereign satellite capabilities4, the UK only owns about 4% of the 3,372 operational satellites in orbit[7] and at least 90% of data driving UK satellite services is provided by satellites owned or operated by other counties4

 

  1. International partnerships: Space is inherently global in nature and space missions are rarely possible on a solely unilateral basis. The UK has established partnerships with several international agencies, in particular the European Space Agency (ESA). As the fourth largest contributor, the UK is committed to contributing £374 million a year to ESA’s budget until 2025[8]. Evaluations estimate that every £1 of this investment delivers, on average, £10 back to the UK economy[9]. The development of new bi/multi-lateral projects, such as with the Australian Space Agency ‘Space Bridge’[10], could help to unlock new opportunities that enable the UK to participate in and lead future space missions, as well as provide better commercial access to international markets. This may require an examination and update of UK export policies that better reflect international capabilities.

 

  1. Global governance: The current set of UN space treaties are quickly becoming out-dated and much of modern-day space governance is taking the form of behavioural norms and voluntary guidelines[11]. With competing priorities between civil, private and military space actors across a rising number of space faring countries, a lack of consistent global regulation makes future conflict between space actors conceivable[12]. Existing UK expertise in space law, regulation, and standards development could help enable the UK to address gaps in global governance[13] and drive international reforms that maintain a fair and safe space environment, whilst also promoting innovation and triggering new markets.

 

  1. Academia: According to the Field Weighted Citation Impact for Physics and Astronomy, Earth Observation and Planetary Sciences, the UK maintains a world leading position in academic space science publications[14]. There is potential to increase engagement between the space sector and other disciplines. The UK Space Life and Biomedical Sciences Association (UK Space LABS) suggest that better access to collaborative facilities, alongside effective knowledge sharing and funding infrastructures could help maximise engagement between the life sciences and the space sector[15]. This could be achieved via a better supported Space Academic Network (SPAN), which aims to create a cohesive network of researchers and help UK scientists develop long-term successful research programmes in collaboration with each other, international space agencies, and commercial partners.

 

  1. In-orbit servicing and manufacturing: Space robotics that enable in-orbit servicing and manufacturing (IOSM), could transform the way space systems are designed and operated in the future. IOSM services that extend mission longevity - such as refuelling, refurbishment, assembly, manufacturing, and recycling - have been identified as a key area of growth for the UK space industry[16]. Northern Sky Research forecasts a cumulative global market of at least $6.2 billion in IOSM services by 2030[17] and a recent UK report projects the IOSM market to be worth $1 billion to the UK space sector by 2030, with the potential to grow to tens of billions in the long-term[18]. This UK analysis suggests that, with relevant investment in IOSM technologies that promote space sustainability, debris removal and life extension services, the UK could take a leading position in this area18.

 

  1. Big space data: Earth observations (EO), via satellite technology, have become a valuable tool for addressing global challenges, such as climate change[19],[20]. The development of comprehensive EO services by 2030 was recommended by the UK’s Space Innovation and Growth Team Strategy5 and UK EO services supported £100 billion of UK GDP in 2018/20191. However, gaps in data governance[21], data sharing norms[22] and ethical guidance may currently limit the interoperability, granularity and authority of EO datasets. The creation of more widely available datasets that combine both satellite-based and terrestrial remote sensing data may help to further improve EO accuracy and fully validate actionable outputs at a local level20. Addressing these challenges could help to improve the translatability of datasets and their commonplace use by scientists, citizens, businesses, policy makers, and future applications outside of traditional disciplines[23].

 

  1. Skills and diversity: With over 3,000 new jobs created in 2018/20191, the sector is facing an increasing demand for skilled workers. Currently, 77% of the UK space workforce hold at least a bachelors degree1. This, together with existing high expectations of employees to possess the correct blend of scientific and soft/core industry skills; high leaving rates to competing sectors; and a lack of common entry routes, is ultimately limiting the recruitment capacity of the UK space sector.[24] The space sector also faces challenges in diversity and inclusion; women are significantly underrepresented making up just 29% of the workforce and ethnic minorities made up 11% of the workforce (compared to 14% nationally)[25]. Growth of the UK’s domestic pipeline, whilst continuing to attract international talent could help to address these challenges[26].

 

  1. Levelling up: In total the UK space industry employs at least 45,000 individuals, which have been mapped across UK companies1, universities, funding bodies and networks by the KTN interactive UK Space Sector Landscape[27]. While many of these space organisations are based in the three ‘Golden Triangle’ regions, the space industry also has significant strengths in the South West, Scotland and the East Midlands1 and the UK has plans to expand this further through developing regional space hubs[28] and spaceports[29].

 

  1. Public engagement: Advances in science and new technologies increase understanding of the world and change the way we live. We all need to have a say in the way that our world changes, understand what these changes might mean and have the knowledge and skills to succeed. As with all areas of emerging research, it is important to provide everyone with the tools to engage meaningfully with developing space science and ensure that they can succeed in a changing world. 

 

  1. Space debris: Space is a limited resource and increasing congestion by satellites, rocket stages and debris - particularly in low Earth orbit (LEO) - threatens the ability to operate in and maintain a safe space environment12. Current compliance rates12 to voluntary mitigation guidelines are considered inadequate to curbing growing debris levels[30] and, in a worst-case scenario, space debris is estimated to increase 50-fold by 2100[31]. To address this, the UK are working towards demonstrating the first complete trial mission for active debris removal (ADR)[32]. Strategic application of ADR technologies could slow the progression of further space debris[33],[34]. However, the lack of, international and domestic legal frameworks hinder future opportunities for UK-based ADR capabilities[35].

 

  1. Space surveillance and tracking: As a catalogue of all identifiable objects in orbit, space surveillance and tracking (SST) systems are likely to become vital to understanding orbital environments and safeguarding UK assets in space[36]. Traditionally a defence domain, a shift towards civil and commercial uses are emerging and SST systems are forecast to reach over £100 million by 2035[37]. In a similar way to the US, UKspace, the trade association of the British space industry, are working in partnership with the RAF to develop a Commercial Integration Cell at the UK Space Operations Centre that will coordinate military and commercial SST applications[38]. However, a lack of legal frameworks obligating satellite operators to use SST services for sustainable space behaviour is currently suppressing a commercial SST market37.

 

  1. Space weather: Extreme space weather events could have severe consequences for ground-, air- and space-infrastructure, including disruption to power grids, aviation and satellite communication and navigation systems[39]. Because space weather prediction models are driven by a small number of satellites, forecasting lead times are limited and corrective action strategies are difficult to set[40]. Recent UK investment towards new space weather missions will be instrumental to improving forecasting accuracy of space weather events[41],[42]. As severe space weather events have the potential to cause simultaneous disruption across multiple economic sectors39, the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group (SEIEG) have provided a series of reasonable worst-case scenarios for government and appropriate industries to robustly prepare for together39.

 

(June 2021)

 

 


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[2]March 2021: Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/975077/Global_Britain_in_a_Competitive_Age-_the_Integrated_Review_of_Security__Defence__Development_and_Foreign_Policy.pdf (accessed June 2021).

[3]Dec 2015: National Space Policy. See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484865/NSP_-_Final.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[4]UKspace. 2020 Securing Our Future in Space. See https://www.ukspace.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Securing-Our-Future-in-Space_Dec2020.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[5]Space IGS. 2015 UK Space Innovation and Growth Strategy. See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/444918/_SPACE-IGS_report-web-JJF-V2.0.pdf (accessed June 2021).

[6]Euroconsult. 2020 Government Space Programmes.

[7]Grimwood T. 2021 Data from: Union of Concerned Scientists Satellite Database. Union of Concerned Scientists (https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/satellite-database).

[8]Bowen E. 2020 The Integrated Review and UK Spacepower: The Search for Strategy. See  https://www.kcl.ac.uk/security-studies/assets/kcl-fasi-british-spacepower-and-the-integrated-review-web4.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[9]UK Space Agency. 2020 Annual Report and Accounts 2019/2020. See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/901360/HC606_UK_Space_Agency_Annual_Report_2019-20.pdf (accessed June 2021).

[10]UK Space Agency. 2021 ‘Space Bridge’ across the world will help UK and Australia get ahead in global space race. See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/space-bridge-across-the-world-will-help-uk-and-australia-get-ahead-in-global-space-race (accessed May 2021).

[11]Wheeler J and Jeong V. 2020 United Kingdom. In: Wheeler J (ed.) The Space Law Review: 2nd edn. The Law Reviews.

[12]European Space Agency. 2021 ESA’s Annual Space Environment Report See https://www.sdo.esoc.esa.int/environment_report/Space_Environment_Report_latest.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[13]OltroggeaIan D and Christensen I. 2020 Space governance in the new space era. J. Space Safety Engineering. 7(3), 432-438 (doi:10.1016/j.jsse.2020.06.003).

[14]know.space. 2021 UK space science: a summary of the research community and its benefits. See https://span.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/SPAN-UK-space-science-nature-benefits-FINAL-REPORT-060421.pdf (accessed May 2021).

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[16]Space Growth Partnership. 2018 Prosperity from Space. See https://sa.catapult.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Prosperity-from-Space-strategy_2May2018.pdf (accessed June 2021).

[17]Northern Sky Research. 2021 NSR Report: In-Orbit Satellite Servicing & Space Situational Awareness Represent A $6.2 Billion Opportunity. NSR. January 30 2021. See https://www.nsr.com/nsr-in-orbit-servicing-space-situational-awareness-market-forecast-to-generate-6-2-b-in-the-next-decade/ (accessed June 2021).

[18]Catapult Satellite Applications. 2021 UK In-Orbit Servicing Capability – A Platform for Growth. See https://sa.catapult.org.uk/news/in-orbit-servicing-capability/ (accessed June 2021).

[19]The Royal Society. 2015 Observing the Earth. See https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/environmental-observation/environmental-observations-report.pdf (accessed May 2012).

[20]The Royal Society. 2020 Digital technology and the planet. See https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/digital-technology-and-the-planet/digital-technology-and-the-planet-report.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[21]The Royal Society. 2020 The UK data governance landscape. See https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/data-governance/uk-data-governance-explainer.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[22]The Royal Society. 2020 Learning data lessons: data access and sharing during COVID-19. See https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/Publications/2021/learning-data-lessons-data-access-and-sharing-during-COVID-19.pdf?la=en-GB&hash=DA87DF3B44154E407FDADC6B4269CEED (accessed May 2021).

[23]May 2021: Space-based earth observations for climate security. See https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_792662_smxx.pdf (accessed June 2021).

[24]UK Space Agency. 2020 Space sector skills survey 2020. See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/964639/BMG_2081_UKSA_Space_Sector_Skills_Survey_2020_Report_V1.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[25]Space Skills Alliance. 2021 Demographics of the uk space sector. See https://spaceskills.org/public/docs/SSA%20Demographics%20of%20the%20UK%20Space%20Sector%202021.pdf (accessed June 2021).

[26]Smith A. 2021 Gaps in the UK’s offer to research talent. Letter to Amanda Solloway MP. 3 June 2021. See https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/Publications/2021/2021-06-03-prs-letter-to-amanda-solloway.pdf (accessed June 2021).

[27]KTN (UK Space Sector Landscape Map) See https://ktn-uk.org/programme/space-satellite-applications-landscape-map/ (accessed May 2021).

[28]UK Space Agency. Nov 2020: New support for UK space hubs unveiled. See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-support-for-uk-space-hubs-unveiled (accessed May 2021).

[29]LaunchUK. 2021 A guide to the UK’s commercial spaceports. See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/983775/4156_A5_brochure_UKSA_Spaceport_Broch_V2_TC_Folder_WEB_PDF_4156_A5_brochure_UKSA_Spaceport_Broch_TC_Web__1_.pdf (accessed June 2021)

[30]Foust J. 2020 Orbital debris mitigation guidelines still useful, if complied with. SpaceNews. 15 January 2020. See https://spacenews.com/orbital-debris-mitigation-guidelines-still-useful-if-complied-with/ (accessed June 2021).

[31]O’Callaghan J. 2021 Space junk is making exploring the universe ‘increasingly difficult’. Independent. 27 May 2021. See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/space-junk-climate-crisis-waste-b1852768.html (accessed June 2021).

[32]Amos J. 2021 Astroscale space debris removal demo set for launch. BBC. 17 March 2021. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-56420047 (accessed May 2021).

[33]Liou J. 2018 Orbital Debris Modeling and the Future Orbital Debris Environment See https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20120015539/downloads/20120015539.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[34]McKnight D. 2021 Identifying the 50 statistically-most-concerning derelict objects in LEO Acta Astronautica. 181, 282-291 (doi: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2021.01.021).

[35]May C. 2021 Triggers and effects of an active debris removal market. See https://aerospace.org/sites/default/files/2021-01/adr%20paper.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[36]Hilborne D and Presley M. 2020 Towards a UK space surveillance policy. See https://www.kcl.ac.uk/dsd/assets/towards-a-uk-space-surveillance-policy-final.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[37]Euroconsult. 2020 Commercial space surveillance & tracking. See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/917912/Euroconsult_-_Commercial_SST_Market_-_for_publication.pdf (accessed May 2021).

[38]July 2020: UKspace and RAF to establish Commercial Integration Cell for greater military and commercial space collaboration. See https://www.ukspace.org/ukspace-raf-establish-cic-for-greater-military-and-commercial-space-collaboration/ (accessed May 2021).

[39]Hapgood M et al. 2021 Development of space weather reasonable worst-case scenarios for the UK national risk assessment. Space Weather 19(4), e2020SW002593. (doi:10.1029/2020SW002593).

[40]Zastrow M 2020 How to improve space weather forecasting. Space Weather. 19 June 2020. See https://eos.org/research-spotlights/how-to-improve-space-weather-forecasting (accessed May 2021).

[41]UK Space Agency. 2019 UK teams complete space weather mission study ahead of selection decision in November. See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-teams-complete-space-weather-mission-study-ahead-of-selection-decision-in-november (accessed May 2021).

[42] Met Office Press Office. 2020 Innovative space weather monitoring projects receive UKRI funding. Official blog of the Met Office news team. 6 July 2020. See https://blog.metoffice.gov.uk/2020/07/06/innovative-space-weather-monitoring-projects-receive-ukri-funding/ (accessed June 2021).