Written Evidence Submitted by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS)



1.    The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS)


1.1              The Royal Aeronautical Society is the only global organisation serving the entire aerospace, aviation and space community as both a learned society and a professional engineering institution. As such, the Society is independent, evidence-based and authoritative, relying on a body of knowledge going back more than 150 years. The Society plays a leading role in influencing opinion on aerospace aviation and space matters, through various means including its publications, social media profile, interaction with Government and an extensive events programme.


2.    Submission Summary


2.1              The UK has a respected position as a small space power, delivering internationally mainly through its ESA membership. However, today, there is insufficient government funding to allow the UK to extend its reach[1].

2.2              The UK’s position in the European Space Agency (ESA) has been the bedrock of the UK’s international reputation for more than 40 years across space science, technology, engineering and applications; this position must not be degraded. We believe that UK membership of ESA should not be traded-off against an increase in sovereign capacity: ESA membership and sovereign capability are complementary and equally necessary.

2.3              The UK is now at an inflection point following its departure from the European Union (EU). The UK is not in a position to compete as a ‘Tier 1’ player alongside countries such as the USA or China (see Fig. 1 below) but the UK should aim to find its proper place alongside leading ‘Tier 2’ space nations such as France, Germany, Italy and Japan.  The key question to be resolved in Government policy therefore is: Does the Government want the UK to sit alongside leading Tier 2 space nations and, if so, what strategies are necessary to make that happen?

2.4              The first and most important step is to rapidly match national space expenditure with the UK’s contributions to ESA to allow the UK to implement a national space programme, both in the civil and defence domains. A dual-track strategy both to strengthen international cooperation through ESA and to invest in sovereign space capability is the correct approach.

2.5              This would allow the UK to

2.6              On the international side,

2.7              In terms of national objectives,


3.    Background


3.1              The European Space Agency (ESA)[2], “Europe’s gateway to space” is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

3.2              ESA today has 22 Member States[3] one Associate Member[4], and has established formal cooperation with six additional Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

3.3              By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. All member states benefit from the ESA principle of fair return (“juste retour”), aiming to ensure that over time, each member state benefits from industrial contracts awarded in proportion to their financial contributions to the different ESA programmes.

3.4              ESA is one of the few organisations in the world active in all areas of space – it develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities. Today, it launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.

3.5              ESA has agreements with several other national space agencies for mutual cooperation and participation in science, exploration and other programmes, particularly with NASA[5], Roscosmos[6] and JAXA[7].

3.6              Although not an EU organisation, ESA has the mandate to define and implement the major elements of the EU space programmes[8].

3.7              The activities of each ESA Member State fall into two categories[9]: mandatory and optional. Mandatory activities include the ESA Space Science programme and ESA’s basic activities (studies on future projects, technology research, shared technical investments, information systems and training programmes).

3.8              Each Member State contributes financially to these programmes on a scale based on its Gross National Product (GNP). All other ESA programmes, defined as ‘optional’, may only be of interest to certain Member States, which are therefore free to decide on their individual level of financial involvement.

3.9              The United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) is an executive agency of the UK Government established on 1 April 2010 to replace the British National Space Centre (BNSC). The UKSA’s original mandate included responsibility for government space policy and represented the UK in all negotiations on space matters, particularly regarding UK participation in ESA programmes. In addition, it brought together all UK civil space activities under one single management for the first time.

3.10          In recent months however, certain UKSA responsibilities have been dispersed, with space policy and strategy now assigned to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and responsibility for regulation, such as for spacecraft launch, now assigned to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). In addition, a separate body, the UK Space Command, was established on 1st April 2021 with responsibility for “space operations; space workforce training and growth; and space capability (developing and delivering space equipment programmes)”[10]. Unlike the French space agency, CNES, or the German space agency, DLR, UKSA today does not have the capacity or skills necessary to act as a full procurement agency for UK national space programmes. CNES has around four times the personnel of UKSA and covers ESA and international relations as well as the national civil and defence space programmes.

3.11          UK participation in the European Space Agency is managed very well by the UK Space Agency, albeit within the financial constraints set by the government.

3.12          Since the origins of the programmes, the UK has been heavily involved in the optional ESA telecommunication and Earth observation programmes, allowing industry to build a large commercial portfolio in spacecraft, payloads and instrument design. The UK has more recently also become deeply involved in the development of downstream applications analysing data from Earth observation missions to better understand climate change. These have been the UK’s strengths.

3.13          From ESA’s beginning, the UK has never participated in the space transportation programme (launch vehicles) and only joined the ESA human spaceflight programme in 2013, paving the way for Tim Peake's mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2015. He is and remains the only UK astronaut ever to be funded by the UK government.

3.14          UK participation in the human spaceflight programme continues today, not only allowing access to microgravity research, but more importantly recently allowing the UK to join ESA in signing the Artemis Accords with NASA for the peaceful exploration of space[11], and allowing the UK to be involved in building the service module and habitation module of the Lunar Gateway, a new space station planned to orbit the Moon.

3.15          Realignment following UK departure from the EU[12]. Owing to its earlier membership of the EU, the UK was permitted to participate in all EU space programmes, influencing policy and benefitting from the services offered by each programme.

3.16          In addition, since the EU had delegated the task of programme definition and procurement of all associated systems to ESA, the UK was eligible to compete for industrial contracts placed by ESA on behalf of the EU, often gaining contracts of a total value greater than the UK contribution to the individual EU programmes.


3.17          One case in particular was UK industry’s role in defining the technology required to offer the important encrypted navigation signals for Galileo, the European satellite navigation programmes. However, the UK is today excluded both from participation and exploitation of the Galileo system as well as the associated European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) which provides increased accuracy for example to allow aircraft to land safely in difficult conditions.


3.18          UK industry and academia have played an important role in definition and delivery of important elements of the Copernicus Earth Observation programme, which today provides high volumes of highly accurate data regarding the parameters used to assess the changing climate. In this case, the UK today has a preliminary agreement with the EU to participate in Copernicus as a “third nation”, subject to agreement on the associated financial obligations called for by the EU. If no agreement is reached, the UK may still be able to benefit from procurement contracts for future ESA Copernicus demonstration missions and have access to the data, but not once they become integrated in the full EU operational system.


3.19          UK participation in the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST) programme has been terminated, although the UK will still be allowed access to the data, used to warn of potential collisions between spacecraft and/or debris in orbit.


3.20          UK academia and industry have also significantly benefitted from Horizon2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation in many different domains, not just space, but this will soon come to an end. It will be replaced by Horizon Europe, the new EU research and innovation funding programme 2021-2027, one of the main tools to implement Europe’s strategy for international cooperation. It is conceivable that the UK may be able to participate in this programme regarding development of space and other technology, subject to agreement with the EU.

3.21          It should be noted that UK’s membership of ESA is not affected in this context, as ESA is not an EU organisation.[13]

3.22          The role of space for society; If space systems and infrastructure were to fail, the effect would be felt across all sectors of society, both civil and defence, as we all depend on space data and applications in our day-to-day lives. Without navigation data, aircraft and shipping would be jeopardised, food deliveries would be halted, transactions on the world’s stock-exchanges would be halted. Round-the-clock and round-the-world communications would be limited. Meteorological predictions would no longer be available. Observation and monitoring of maritime, air and ground transport for defence purposes would not be possible. Observation and monitoring of climate change, agricultural and forest health would not be possible. The list goes on.

4.    Responses to Questions Raised by the Committee


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


4.1.1        Despite being a G7 nation, the UK clearly does not have the financial means to be a Tier 1 space nation like the US or China who currently invest many times that of the UK on their space programmes. However, the UK is now at a very important inflection point in the space domain especially following departure from the EU, in terms of what the UK’s wishes its global position as a space nation to be.

4.1.2        The UK’s reputation as a space nation has been built up essentially through its engagement as a founding member state of the European Space Agency (ESA), but the overall position and capacity of the UK has always been limited by its relatively modest investment in space. Investment is the key to success and also provides a high return to the economy, as demonstrated in studies by London Economics.[14]

4.1.3        Almost everything the UK has achieved in the space domain has been through ESA programmes. The UK has no systematic national programme, other than the Skynet military communications system and since leaving the EU, has now lost access to the EU global satellite navigation system Galileo, which the UK played an important part in developing.


4.1.4        Figure 1 shows government space budget by country in 2018. Timeline

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4.1.5        Figure 2 shows the largest Member State contributions to ESA in 2021 (million Euros)

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4.1.6        The UK currently sits at the bottom end of the Tier 2 space nations and should aim to change this position and rise to a level of investment closer to that of the leading nations, namely France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

4.1.7        France, Germany, and Italy each contribute considerably more to ESA than the UK, and both France and Italy also invest significantly in sovereign and military space capabilities.

4.1.8        However, the UK does have an advantage in the increase in the number of commercial enterprises involved in space-related activities is not yet as prevalent in France or Germany. The UK should therefore encourage an increased degree of commercialisation, but not at the expense of government investment.


4.1.9        Another important aspect is the current space domain skills shortage in the UK, combined with a certain reliance on foreign nationals (See 4.4b) below).


4.1.10    Lastly the UK needs to set out a clear and ambitious UK national space programme so as to inspire the public, as has been the case with Tim Peake, but now also addressing for example the future UK Global Navigation Satellite system (GNSS) and a funded and viable UK launch capability.


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


4.2.1        Not addressed.


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

4.3.1        It is instructive to consider France’s space strategy going back many years. France made a highly significant decision in the 1960s independently to engage and lead in space in Europe across all areas. In 1961 the French space agency CNES was founded responsible for shaping and implementing the country’s space policy in Europe. Today the agency employs ca. 2,000 staff experienced in space matters. France also undertook to invest heavily in ESA and national programmes.

4.3.2        In comparison, the UK has taken a very long time in creating and evolving the UK Space Agency, which has now been assigned responsibility for programme delivery. As a result, a significant increase in space sector knowledge and skills is needed within the agency to ensure that the staff have the capability and experience required for major programme definition, procurement and delivery oversight.

4.3.3        In 1980, France created a national astronaut corps, allowing French astronauts to fly on Russian, NASA and ESA missions. Again, by comparison, the UK entered into the ESA Human Spaceflight and Exploration Programme much later and Major Tim Peake was the UK’s first ESA astronaut, launching to the International Space Station in 2015.

4.3.4        All these points, along with the UK’s historical termination of the Blue Streak and its continuing unwillingness to participate in the ESA Launcher programme, now led by France, Germany and Italy, reflects a reluctance to be a leading Tier 2 space nation. The Government is urged to change that posture.

4.3.5        On the positive side, the UK has enjoyed considerable academic and industrial successes as a result of our involvement with ESA programmes in realms including earth science, exploration, communications, earth observation and human spaceflight. In 2009, ESA established its first centre in the UK: the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) and since 2013 based in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

4.3.6        The UK can also be proud of its successful independent start-ups in the small satellite domain principally serving commercial customers but now with a large global market reach and should build on this success.


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


a)      Technology Development


4.4.1        Technology development should continue either through continued collaboration or independently by extension of the National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP) with the international component of the NSIP supporting collaborative projects between UK organisations and international partners.


4.4.2        On the one hand, government investment in sovereign capability is essential in order to develop the technologies required for vital national strategic assets such as defence. On the other hand, participation in the ESA Technology Programme is also a very good solution, giving customers the option to choose to buy technology from UK national bodies or international bodies. Once again, there is no dichotomy between national and ESA investment.


4.4.3        It is important that attention be paid to the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) (e.g. for defence).


4.4.4        In addition, greater and more timely investment should be introduced, to enable key technologies such as cryptographic flight hardware, space-qualified processors and frequency standards and space surveillance and tracking.


b)      Skills and Diversity


4.4.5        The Space Sector Skills Survey 2020: Research Report published by the UK Government[15] highlights key skill shortages which need to be addressed urgently to support the investment and potential rapid growth of the UK Space sector. In particular, the survey highlights recruitment difficulties experienced across the sector, especially in specialist space engineering fields, both in primes and SMEs, and states that skills supply has not kept up with demand. The report also highlights the global nature of recruitment and the impact Brexit might have on exacerbating skills shortages.


4.4.6        The Society welcomes the introduction of new Space Technician/Engineer Apprenticeship Standards at Level 4 and 6 currently in development and which will be available shortly; these will help enable more people to enter the industry. However, the Government, IFATE, UK Space Agency and Space Growth Partnership should ensure that developing new Apprenticeship Standards can be achieved at the pace and quality that the sector needs. There is also the opportunity to develop apprenticeships which support upskilling or reskilling of existing staff both within space and from other engineering and technical fields.


4.4.7        Covid-19 has had a severe impact on engineering and technical roles in other sectors, particularly civil aerospace manufacturing and aviation. There is an opportunity to develop apprenticeship standards at all levels to harness this talent and support space sector ambitions.


4.4.8        However, training and skills development should go beyond this. Examples of skills development could include access to short courses for staff in SMEs; supporting work placements for students in space; to competitions which help develop employability and entrepreneurial skills as well as raise awareness of UK Space; and PhD funding for novel areas of research and product development. There also needs to be investment in FE and HE space education provision to ensure that providers have the right knowledge, equipment and people to support learning.


4.4.9        The report also highlights the lack of diversity across the sector, particularly those with protected characteristics. We understand that there is a diversity and skills strand of the Space Growth Partnership and the RAeS has a number of activities to support diversity and inclusion across aerospace, space, defence and aviation, including our alta[16] mentoring programme for women which can support the space sector. In addition, ensuring we have role models and engagement programmes which appeal to diverse audiences, particularly women, people from low socio-economic backgrounds, people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and people with disabilities both hidden and physical, will ensure diversity of thought in the talent pipeline.


c)      Research funding, investment and economic growth


4.4.10    London Economics has published reports showing that the financial return to society from £1 invested in the space domain is estimated to be £10 on average in the UK[17]. The benefit of government investment in that context is obvious.



d)      Industry


4.4.11    The UK has taken big steps to provide national facilities serving the space industry (e.g. Harwell), but if the UK seeks to put in place a competitive market, further large government capital investment is required in national facilities.  Concerning industrial companies, the UK provides good support for SMEs, but today there is little support to attract non-UK companies to establish themselves as prime contractors in the UK.



e)      Civil and defence applications


4.4.12    The need to adopt a dual-track approach to space activity and funding is especially acute in the defence realm. Operational sovereignty afforded by independent space capacity allows political leaders the choice to conduct effective operations at a time and place of the Government’s choosing, independently if necessary.


4.4.13    This dual-track approach allows the UK to harness the technological and financial benefits of collaborative working through ESA in the civil realm, whilst retaining operational sovereignty in the defence and security spheres.



f)        International considerations and partnerships


4.4.14    UK participation in ESA must not be diminished but should grow. It is not a question of either ESA participation or sovereign capacity increase as they are complementary and equally necessary.

4.4.15    UK participation in EUMETSAT should continue, being most important for the UK Met Office.


4.4.16    Beyond ESA, the UK government should embark on a new series of partnerships aimed at fulfilling the national objectives, be they scientific, technological, civil or defence, and involving nations with which the UK wishes to collaborate.



g)      Place


4.4.17    Regional Clusters require much stronger guidance and further funding to be able to introduce new space industries and to allow regional benefit from the financial return on investment in the space domain.



h)      Current regulatory and legislative frameworks and impact on UK launch potential;


4.4.18    not addressed.



i)        Impacts of low Earth orbit satellites on research activities;


4.4.19    not addressed.



j)        Other


4.4.20    The UK Government needs to recognise itself as a key customer of space services. All leading space nations are substantial consumers of their own space sector’s services. Internationally, the market is highly protectionist (France buys French; USA buys American). Success stories such as SpaceX have thrived as a result of major government funding.


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


4.5.1        Navigation systems:  Since departing the EU, the UK now urgently requires access to a national or international GNSS. The UK has the satellite technology and experience gained from participation in the EU Galileo programme, but the complexity and cost of an accurate, reliable, protected and renewable space constellation along with redundant ground systems and infrastructure is likely to be very high for the UK to bear alone. Collaboration, potentially with the Five Eyes allies, will be essential.

4.5.2        Weather forecasting: The UK’s participation as a member state of EUMETSAT provides continuous and accurate meteorological data, essential for the UK Met Office, and therefore should continue.

4.5.3        Earth observation including climate change: In the downstream context, the UK has developed a large academic and commercial capacity to understand and interpret climate change data - more than 50% of climate variables are measured from space.

4.5.4        UK academia and industry also play a significant role in the upstream context, namely spacecraft and instruments, and have been responsible for development of many ESA demonstration missions that were then incorporated into the EU Copernicus programme. However, working on ESA demonstration missions does not permit later UK access to data from the new EU systems based on the same technology.

4.5.5        For this reason, it is essential that the UK concludes an agreement with the EU (with financial implications for the UK) to continue participation in the EU Copernicus programme.


4.5.6        Communications: This is a very important domain, in which UK industry (e.g. Airbus UK) has built up a lot of experience, now exploited commercially around the world. Inmarsat, formerly an intergovernmental organisation headquartered in London, and now a private enterprise, provides exceedingly high-quality services for communications with and tracking of marine and air traffic.


4.5.7        Science: This is a key area, today dominated by the UK’s roles in ESA’s excellent Science Programme (planetary missions, observation missions). As a potentially leading Tier 2 nation the UK needs to have its own national space science programme (recently introduced by China and India) in addition to its continued participation in the ESA Science Programme, allowing bi-lateral international cooperation and as part of the UK’s broader drive to be a science super-power.


4.5.8        In addition, the topics of Space Domain Awareness, Space Traffic Management and reduction of the threat of space debris, are all very relevant today, to understand and eventually manage what is today a global challenge, through engagement with UNOOSA and continued international cooperation, particularly with the US.



(July 2021)

[1] For more on Government funding of space and what RAeS believes is necessary please read our submission to HM Treasury in advance of the 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review (section 6: Space) https://www.aerosociety.com/media/14558/2020_09_23_raes_response_comprehensive_spending_review.pdf

[2] https://discover.esa.int/#/

[3] Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

[4] Slovenia

[5] Participation of ESA astronauts on the International Space Station, the future Moon missions etc.

[6] Launch of ESA and other spacecraft by the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle from the ESA Launch Facility in Kourou

[7] Japanese Space Agency, for scientific cooperation

[8] Galileo, Copernicus, etc.

[9] https://www.esa.int/About_Us/Corporate_news/Funding

[10] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/uk-space-command

[11] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-and-nasa-sign-international-agreement-ahead-of-mission-to-the-moon

[12] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/uk-involvement-in-the-eu-space-programme


[13] An agreement was signed between the UK Government and ESA concerning ESA’s sites and facilities in the UK  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ms-no212019-agreement-between-the-government-of-the-united-kingdom-of-great-britain-and-northern-ireland-and-the-european-space-agency-concerning

[14] Return from Public Space Investments: An initial analysis of evidence on the returns from public space investments; https://londoneconomics.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/LE-UKSA-Return-from-Public-Space-Investments-FINAL-PUBLIC.pdf

[15] UK Space Agency; Space Sector Skills Survey 2020: Research Report; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/space-sector-skills-survey-2020-research-report

[16] https://www.aerosociety.com/get-involved/women-in-aviation-aerospace-committee/alta-mentoring-platform/

[17] Return from Public Space Investments: An initial analysis of evidence on the returns from public space investments; https://londoneconomics.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/LE-UKSA-Return-from-Public-Space-Investments-FINAL-PUBLIC.pdf