Written Evidence Submitted by Thales and Thales Alenia Space response
The UK must be equipped to defend its own assets, own viable space capabilities to trade with international partners, address climate change and improve Britain’s productivity. Together, Thales Alenia Space and Thales have ambitions to grow the UK space sector and support the HMG ambitions for the UK to be a significant global actor in space and a leading science super power.
This submission is made on behalf of Thales Alenia Space and Thales.
Thales is a global technology business operating across the Aerospace, Transport, Space, Digital Identity, Security, and Defence markets. Worldwide we employ over 80,000 people across 68 countries. Thales in the UK employs over 7,000 people, including 4,500 highly skilled engineers, across 10 key sites.
Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has over 40 years’ experience of delivering telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, environmental management, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures. Governments and private industry count on Thales Alenia Space to design satellite-based systems that provide anytime, anywhere connections and positioning, monitor our planet, enhance management of its resources, and explore our Solar System and beyond. Thales Alenia Space has around 7,700 employees in 18 sites in 11 countries across Europe and the USA.
Thales Alenia Space opened its UK operation in 2014 to contribute to the UK’s growing and dynamic space sector by developing new breakthrough innovations and currently has a highly skilled workforce of nearly 200 people across facilities in Bristol, Harwell and Thales Belfast. Space scientists and engineering teams in Bristol design and build remote sensing missions and instruments for Earth observation and Science missions. The Thales Alenia Space teams in Harwell are world leaders in the design of electric propulsion modules for satellite systems which are built in Thales’ facility in Belfast.
This submission welcomes the Government’s clear ambitions for civil and defence space, but we believe that there is the need for Government to act to allow the market to reach its potential. It is imperative that the National Space Strategy is implemented in such a way to develop a broader supply chain, encourage additional prime level industrial players and enhance the attractiveness of inward investment to the whole space industrial ecosystem.
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually and through international partnerships?
- There is huge potential for the UK’s global position as a space nation; with a growing market of SMEs and a strong R&D base, the Government is right to set its ambitions high.
- Whilst we welcome the Government’s clear ambitions for civil and defence space, we believe that there is the need for Government to act to allow the market to reach its potential and for those ambitions to be realised.
- At a national level, it is imperative that the National Space Strategy (NSS) is implemented in such a way to develop a broader supply chain, encourage additional prime level industrial players and enhance the attractiveness of inward investment to the whole space industrial ecosystem.
- The UK space industry must be an ecosystem of large, midsize and small companies and not dominated by one large prime that holds a monopoly. Thales UK and Thales Alenia Space have brought IPR and investment into the UK and would be prepared to bring more if there is clear appetite from Government and the right support.
- International partnerships are key to the future success of the UK space sector. The UK should continue to work with the European Space Agency (ESA), to build space capability and support technology development. The UK should ensure its engagement with ESA 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, such as the US, Australia, and Japan, to gain access to new markets, supply chains, collaborative programmes, and increase its international influence.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base?
- The UK’s credentials in the space activity relating to climate change are strong; Thales Alenia Space continues to win work of global significance harnessing the skills of its talented teams to do integration and assembly testing, plus key sensors and instruments.
- The UK has world-leading expertise in Earth Observation (EO), meteorology, climate science, and associated space instrumentation.
- Thales Alenia Space contributes to MicroCarb, Copernicus and Earth Explorer Flex mission – which will study across gas emissions, clouds and plant health and stress levels. This is in line with our “Space to Observe and Protect” value, to use Space to support a more sustainable life on Earth, and demonstrates how space is supporting the UK becoming a science super power.
- The R&D timelines for space are longer than other sectors. Multiyear funding is required to enable companies to identify a return on investment and therefore invest more in R&D and services.
- A weakness of the current market structure is the dominance of one large prime contractor. The sector must be an ecosystem of large, midsize and small companies, along with academia, and not dominated by one large prime that holds a monopoly. Thales UK and Thales Alenia Space have brought IPR and investment into the UK and would be prepared to bring more if there is clear appetite from Government and the right support.
- The NSS should include concrete steps to diversify and mature the UK space supply chain.
What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of previous space strategies for the UK and the space strategies of other countries?
- Other EU countries have national space strategies and significant national funding which better enable them to capture and exploit ESA programmes. A UK National Space strategy and national funding will enable the UK space sector to capitalise upon ESA programmes to develop products and services suitable for export and drive new international and commercial partnerships.
- In the past the UK national strategy and funding has been exclusively focused on ESA programmes which has led to a limited development of commercial opportunities.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy, including considerations of: technology; skills and diversity; research funding, investment and economic growth; industry; civil and defence applications; international considerations and partnerships; place; current regulatory and legislative frameworks and impact on UK launch potential; and impacts of low Earth orbit satellites on research activities.
- In our view, there must be a holistic approach between defence, scientific, commercial and wider government requirements; being able to work collaboratively will ensure the maximum value for UK government investment and ensuring we create the most effective industrial base to support the UK ambitions.
- The NSS should include concrete steps to diversify and mature the UK space supply chain to increase the addressable market for the large number of space companies in the UK, support long term inward investment and enable them to align strategies with the UK Space Strategy and invest in R&D accordingly, thus maximising exploitation of innovation.
- The OneWeb purchase is significant however HMG needs to ensure the benefits are realised across the whole of the UK supply chain, including attracting and retaining valuable skills for the future prosperity of the sector in the UK.
- Thales Alenia Space and Thales are excited to play our part in this success. It is very important that OneWeb sits as part of a wider space strategy for the UK. We look forward to the imminent publication of the National Space Strategy and to support the HMG in fulfilling its ambitions for the UK to be a global actor in space.
- Thales Alenia Space proposes Very Low Earth orbit satellites to increase security and resilience and manage the issues associated with space debris management in low Earth Orbit.
What needs to be done to ensure the UK has appropriate, resilient and future-proofed space and satellite infrastructure for applications including navigation systems; weather forecasting; earth observation including climate change; and communication (including broadband)?
- The NSS needs to give equal focus and be inclusive for upstream and downstream sectors. The emphasis on upstream is needed to enable the UK to maintain resilience and security of access to date for navigation, weather forecasting and climate change monitoring.