Written Evidence Submitted by ADS and UKspace

(SPA0056)

 

1.      INTRODUCTION

 

1.1.  ADS is the premier trade association for the UK’s defence, security, aerospace, and space sectors. It has over 1,100 member companies, 95 percent of which are Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs).   In 2020, the sectors generated £79 billion of turnover in the UK, including £45 billion in exports, and supported over one million jobs.

 

1.2.  UKspace is the trade association for the UK space industry.  It represents the interests of a diverse membership across the upstream and downstream segments of the sector, working with its partners, ADS and techUK.

 

1.3.  The UK’s space sector is critical to the UK’s economy, research, and innovation. In 2020, the sector had a turnover of £16.4bn, exports worth £5.8bn, and directly employed 45,000 people across the UK, including 2,000 apprentices.[1]  Space systems and services support at least £360 billion of UK GDP.  The sector has a 5.1 percent share of the global space economy.

 

QUESTIONS

 

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

 

2.1.  ADS and UKspace believe that the UK can become a modern space power.  For this to happen, the Government needs to provide a greater degree of funding support, and strategic direction.

 

2.2.  As part of the forthcoming National Space Strategy, UKspace has recommended that:-

 

2.2.1.      A 10-year National Space Procurement Programme is launched to enable the procurement of large-scale systems and services to deliver civil and military requirements, beyond the currently funded Skynet 6 programme within the Ministry of Defence.  This will underpin the competitiveness of British space products and services in the fast-growing global space market;

 

2.2.2.      The Government recognises that it needs to have a role as an “anchor customer” for space systems and services, as the global space sector is characterised by a high degree of government intervention by other countries;

 

2.2.3.      The National Space Innovation Programme, which was launched in 2020, is continued for 10 years and increased in size, to attract industry match-funding in early stage space Research & Development (R&D) and innovation projects;

 

2.2.4.      The Government should establish an effective Space Programme Delivery Capability, accountable to the National Space Council, responsible across departments for the delivery of space programmes; and

 

2.2.5.      The Government should put in place business-friendly space regulations in what is an increasingly competitive global marketplace to create an enabling environment for financing space businesses.  The regulatory framework also needs to be regularly reviewed, and sufficiently flexible, to keep pace with the development of new technologies and operational models. 

 

2.3.  International partnerships are key to the future success of the UK space sector and must underpin the National Space Strategy.  The UK should continue to work with the European Space Agency (ESA), to build space capability and support technology development. However, the UK should ensure its engagement with ESA better supports the delivery of national objectives, in a joined-up approach with the National Space Strategy.  Beyond ESA, the UK should work much more closely with other international partners on bilateral missions and R&D, including the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Japan, as well as individual ESA members (such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain), to gain access to new markets, supply chains, collaborative programmes, and increase international influence. The UK should also enhance its relationships with the Five Eyes nations on space, including for satellite communications, Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT), and resilience.

 

2.4.  Finally, the National Space Strategy should recognise the continued importance of the UK’s leading role in space sustainability, traffic management, and security, including promoting international best practice and consensus. Space Domain Awareness (SDA) capabilities will be an important enabler for this.

 

3.      What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base?

 

3.1.  Innovation and research are at the heart of the UK space sector and play a key role in its continued growth. An estimated £702 million was spent on space-related R&D in 2018/19 (equivalent to 4.3 percent of total industry income),[2] an increase of 8.6 percent per annum since 2016/17. Space industry R&D is five times higher than the UK average of 1.71 percent.

 

3.2.  The partnership between the space sector and the Government is fundamental for successful research and innovation. This is because the R&D project costs and timelines for space are often higher than other sectors, the space sector is dependent on the demonstration of technologies in difficult and risky environments, the market potential of space technology can be difficult to quantify in the early stages, and other governments provide a greater level of direct investment.

 

3.3.  Public investment in the sector delivers a very high return. For example, every £1 of investment in ESA has delivered £10 back to the UK economy. The UK Space Agency’s (UKSA) 2019 innovation consultation identified that investment of £900 million from industry could be unlocked by government funding of £700 million.  Whilst the Government launched a £15 million National Space Innovation Programme in July 2020, this was 46 times smaller than the collective ask of industry. The projects have also been of small scale and short duration.  Intermittent funding allocation results in a stop-start effect on projects which is not sustainable. For multinational companies with a choice of multiple countries in which to make R&D investments, this puts the UK at a competitive disadvantage. In addition to funding early-stage R&D, for which improvements are needed in the schemes that provide support for pre-revenue and pre-investment companies, the Government should also provide more access to finance for later stages of growth and scale-up. In this respect, the space sector welcomes the creation of the British Business Bank’s ‘Breakthrough Fund’.[3] It would welcome more interventions of this type, which encourage large-scale and patient capital for space infrastructure.

 

3.4.  In addition to reforming the National Space Innovation Programme, UKspace has called on the Government to launch a National Space Procurement Programme to enable the procurement of large-scale national programmes for upstream aspects of the space sector, such as telecommunications, and PNT. Large-scale national programmes are required to attract inward investment, grow and diversify the onshore manufacturing parts of the UK’s industrial base, and enable downstream applications.

 

3.5.  Deepening the UK’s skills base across industry, academia, and regulatory bodies will be an important enabler of the space sector’s continued success, including through inward investment, and knowledge and technology transfer. This will create jobs, attract inward investment, and deliver innovative products, services, and effective policy initiatives.  Alongside creating new commercial opportunities for established UK companies, such investment will enable UK start-ups and SMEs to scale up and export. New skills and technical capabilities will also find applications outside of the space sector, bringing spin-out/in opportunities. Importantly, they will strengthen the UK’s influence over the international norms and rules governing the sustainable commercial use of space. Proposals for a National Space Academy or National Space Skills Institute are important in this respect.

 

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?

 

4.1.  Other countries, notably Australia and the U.S., have developed successful national strategies with clearly prioritised technology areas. The strategies are underpinned by technology roadmaps. These roadmaps are supported by large-scale and funded national programmes. In this context, it is worth noting that the UK has always spent less on its space sector than peer countries; the U.S. continues to be the largest investor in space (58 percent of the world total), followed by China, France, Russia, and JapanThe UK previously generated technology and market roadmaps, following the publication of the Space Innovation Growth Strategy in 2010 (now the Space Growth Partnership). These were useful to prioritise technology investments. but they have not been maintained due to a lack of sustained funding.

 

4.2.  Other countries also have more formal and established mechanisms for engaging industry, and academia, in the development of national strategy and programmes.  For example, the U.S. National Space Council has a Users’ Advisory Group. The UK currently lacks similar mechanisms that are representative of the space sector, and which allow the Government to access relevant expertise.

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

 

5.1.  In addition to comments on specific technologies (paragraphs 6.1 to 6.4.4), research funding and investment (paragraphs 3.1 to 3.4), skills (paragraph 3.5), international partnerships (paragraph 2.3), and overall regulatory frameworks (paragraph 2.2.5), ADS and UKspace would highlight:-

 

5.1.1.      Industry.  It is important to continue supporting prime companies in the UK, and encourage new entrants at that level (such as Team Athena), as they provide essential support to the upstream supply chain, as well as access to new markets;

 

5.1.2.      Civil and defence applications.  Space is inherently dual-use. However, large-scale programmes within specific departments do not always explore how they can contribute to the objectives of other departments. The National Space Council and a Space Programme Delivery Capability should seek to address this.  Currently, the MoD has the largest scale programmes, such as Skynet 6, and Project Oberon.  The size and nature of these programmes makes them important to the sector and its growth, and they could have wider utility across the public sector;

 

5.1.3.      Regulatory framework for UK Launch.  ADS and UKspace have been working with member companies and the Government to ensure the draft Spaceflight Regulations 2021 are business-friendly, particularly in relation to liabilities, and that the licensing procedures are fast and low cost to ensure the UK is an attractive location for future space launch activity. The space sector remains concerned that the draft Regulations do not provide sufficient clarity in respect of operators facing unlimited or uncompetitive liability, which would be a barrier to UK commercial launch activity;

 

5.1.4.      Regulations impacting investment.  ADS and UKspace have also been working with the Government to ensure that the new National Security and Investment Regime does not unnecessarily inhibit investments in the space sector; and

 

5.1.5.      Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and research activities. LEO is a unique environment for microgravity research and experiments that can be useful to a range of sectors, such as health, agritech, and in-orbit manufacturing.  This is evidenced by the International Space Station (ISS), which is due to close later this decade.  Coupled with the UK Launch programme, the UK could provide a cost-effective alternative to the ISS, particularly if it supported the development of earth return capabilities.

 

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.  Navigation systems. Space-based systems have a key role to play in delivering reliable and accurate PNT services that will support the UK’s ambitions for autonomous vehicles, renewable energy, rail, smart cities, cybersecurity, and critical national infrastructure. The National Space Strategy should recognise these critical dependencies, and therefore the importance of having a robust and secure PNT capability. Resilient PNT will require multiple space (and terrestrial) systems. The National Space Strategy should recognise this, ensure progress for the Space-Based PNT Programme (SBPP), and emphasise the need to work collaboratively and globally. For space systems, assets in multiple orbits are likely to be required, and the UK will likely need to explore collaboration with commercial and allied assets as part of its SBPP. In addition, the UK should work with the U.S. and the International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems to develop standards for resilient PNT and provide test beds for standards definition and technologies. It should continue to seek to collaborate with European Commission and ESA projects relevant to navigation.

 

6.2.  Earth Observation (including weather forecasting, and climate change). The UK has world-leading expertise in Earth Observation (EO), meteorology, climate science, and associated space instrumentation.  There is significant scope for it to deliver a national capability in this area, beyond the existing Traceable Radiometry Underpinning Terrestrial- and Helio- Studies (TRUTHS) climate mission, with the Government as an anchor customer.  This will require a capability for large satellite manufacturing; the UK’s forthcoming National Space Strategy should not overlook the requirement to support this upstream capability, as it enables downstream applications and services.  Future bets should include expanding EO capabilities beyond scientific applications and building on investments made through the National Quantum Technology Programme (NQTP) to make the UK a global leader in quantum payloads for EO, communications, and PNT.

 

6.3.  Communications. The satellite telecommunications sector remains the largest contributor by value to the UK space sector. However, the sector is facing rapidly increasing and very intensive competition from other countries – the U.S., Japan, China, Canada, some major EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, and Spain), and increasingly from India, Middle Eastern and Asia Pacific countries – in both the upstream sector and downstream sector. The Government has consistently supported the telecommunications sector via national investments for R&D (e.g. UKSA, Innovate UK / UK Research and Innovation, and the Satellite Applications Catapult), and via important contributions to international funding streams (ESA and European Commission). Industry has match-funded this.  Continued significant direct and indirect support will be required from the Government to sustain growth and competitiveness, through collaborative investments with industry.  For UK companies in the upstream sector, it will be important to remain at the forefront of design and manufacturing capabilities for both Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and Non-Geostationary (NGSO) space communications systems, and associated ground systems, including at prime contractor and major subcontractor level.  This should be a strategic goal of the UK’s.  Companies in the downstream sector will need to remain at the forefront of services and applications such as high speed broadband, secure communications (including quantum enabled), and integrated services that blend telecommunications, navigation, and geospatial capabilities.  Finally, the Government should provide clarity about its strategy for OneWeb, and how that might support the UK’s upstream supply chain.

 

6.4.  Other.  In addition, the following steps are recommended:-

 

6.4.1.      Science and exploration. The UK should invest more in space science and exploration. It currently lacks fully funded, long duration flagship projects, around which industry can invest and structure technology. There is an opportunity for the UK to focus on emerging Lunar surface operations and missions, including through the development of a rover;

 

6.4.2.      Launch technologies. The space economy is forecast to be worth over £400 billion per annum by 2030, and grow to £1 trillion per annum by 2040. The key to unlocking this growth is a change in the existing approach to space access.  UK investment in novel space propulsion, and a launch capability that provides safe, reliable, and regular transfer of payloads from the Earth into orbit, will be a critical enabler for the utilisation of the space environment. Lower launch costs, and improved operational characteristics, will start a virtuous cycle that will lower the barrier to participate in the space economy. This will make new industries viable, such as in-orbit manufacturing, space pharma, space debris removal, and space-based solar power. Growth in the space economy will further increase launch rates and demand, and drive a greater reduction in launch costs, reinforcing and fulfilling the virtuous cycle;

 

6.4.3.      In-orbit services and manufacturing (ISOM) and debris removal. The UK has shown international leadership by securing G7 agreement to mitigate ‘the growing hazard of space debris and congestion in earth’s orbit’,[4] and by being a signatory to the United Nations’ (UN) Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities (June 2019),[5] the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines (March 2020),[6] and the Artemis Accords (October 2020).[7]  The UK should continue to take a leadership position in international regulatory fora.  It should promote the development of guidelines and norms that go further than the current UN and IADC guidelines, to more comprehensively assess the risks of in-orbit collisions involving space systems (especially in LEO orbits), and ensure that satellites systems can reliably manoeuvre to minimise the risk of collision and creation of additional debris.

 

UKspace welcomes the publication of the Platform for Growth report.[8] In-orbit satellite manufacturing, and space debris removal, will be increasingly important.  UKspace endorses the six recommendations in the report, as the first step towards a sustainable in-orbit economy, and the call from the UK Space Agency for Phase 0/A studies on the feasibility of a national space debris removal mission to support UK policy on space sustainability. Another report on the UK’s in-orbit servicing capability highlighted strengths in areas such as close proximity operations (CPO), as demonstrated by the ELSA-d mission. However, the UK is lagging behind in areas such as robotics, where other countries, including Japan, Canada, the U.S., and Europe, are making significant investments. It needs a strong R&D programme in robotics, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing that leverages non-space sector capabilities. The UK also needs to enable technology transfer from international companies with a UK presence, to co-create innovative products and services; and

 

6.4.4.      Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and quantum technologies. The UK leads in other technology areas, which have synergies with space. UKspace recommends leveraging established programmes in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and quantum to provide greater support for the space sector.  For example:-

 

6.4.4.1.            NQTP is developing technologies relevant to space infrastructures for position, navigation and timing, quantum secure communications, earth sensing, and big data processing (through the National Quantum Computing Centre); and

 

6.4.4.2.            Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be important for enabling space and autonomous robotics, as well as the autonomous and intelligent processing of data for downstream applications and services.

 

 

(June 2021)

 


[1] See ADS Industry Facts and Figures 2021 (https://www.adsgroup.org.uk/industry-issues/facts-figures-2021/).

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

[3] See https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/future-fund-breakthrough/.

[4] See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/g7-nations-commit-to-the-safe-and-sustainable-use-of-space

[5] See https://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/topics/long-term-sustainability-of-outer-space-activities.html.

[6] See https://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/library/iadc-space-debris-guidelines-revision-2.pdf

[7] See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/926741/Artemis_Accords_signed_13Oct2020__002_.pdf and https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis-accords/index.html

[8] See https://www.ukspace.org/ukspace-response-to-a-platform-for-growth-iosm-report/ and Satellite Applications Catapult, Fair-Space, and Astroscale, UK In-Orbit Servicing Capability: A Platform for Growth, May 2021 (https://sa.catapult.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Catapult-Astroscale-Fairspace-Platform-for-Growth-report-final-27-05-21.pdf).