Written Evidence Submitted by Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually and through international partnerships;
The UK’s prospects as a major global space nation have never been stronger, as a nation we have some world leading innovators particularly in the fields of space propulsion and satellite applications. There is also a major opportunity for the UK to lead in the innovation opportunities around the management of low orbit satellites and space debris, and manufacture of high-value materials in the zero-G environment to develop stand-alone test, production and launch capacity. The UK’s recognised strengths in SME led R&D and entrepreneurship need to be nurtured and supported with a growth framework covering high start-up costs and skills development.
Speed is of the essence. At present the UK has a natural first mover advantage, we are less constrained by international regulations than we have been for a generation and it is important that we invest decisively to capitalise on these advantages and build a commercial space industry that has the tools to lead in a rapidly evolving, increasingly competitive and challenging world space market. If we do not act decisively we will have diminished capability in winning global market share particularly in Low Earth Orbit Satellite Systems.
The UK wants to capture 10% of the rapidly growing commercial global space market by 2030 – estimated to be worth £40bn per annum to the UK economy. Our share of the global space economy will slow, however, without appropriate stimulus in a highly competitive market. It is critical that we capitalise on our current competitive advantages in low earth orbit satellites to grow our international market share and attract international investment. To achieve our ambitions will require a significant increase in our infrastructure so that we can grow our capability and expertise, and be an attractive landing spot for large international primes as well home-grown talent to invest in the UK.
The Westcott Space Park in Buckinghamshire can be an important part of the UK’s space ecosystem, with the scope, capacity and ambition to bring together the entire supply chain of capabilities from rockets and satellite building to space applications and services in an integrated environment that reaches out to supply chains across the UK. Westcott has a proud history of rocket propulsion and associated high-tech industries. Its first-class reputation is the perfect platform upon which to build international appeal and to help the UK play a leading role in the commercialisation of local Earth orbit space. Building capacity at Westcott is the natural step for the UK as it aims to develop its sovereign capability in the space sector. Westcott is the location of the recently opened National Space Propulsion Test Facility following investment from the UK Space Agency, and has a developing Space Cluster stimulated by recent investments by the Buckinghamshire LEP through the Satellite Applications Catapult. It would act as the catalyst for national collaboration, particularly if its location close to the Harwell Space Cluster and the new Military Space Command Centre in High Wycombe can be fully capitalised upon.
The Westcott Space Ecosystem 10 Year Strategy sets-out the ambition, strategy and collective will to deliver an environment that nurtures innovative thinking and ground-breaking solutions. To achieve it requires investment, commitment, and a skilled workforce to make it happen.
The Buckinghamshire LEP (BLEP) together with the Satellite Applications Catapult (SAC) has identified a Disruptive Innovative Space Facility (DISC) with an integrated Skills Academy as a vital next element of a 10-year plan both for the Westcott site and for the UK space industry as a whole building upon investment that has seen the development of new 5G test centres, innovation and incubation space and the National Space propulsion test Facility over the past 5 years. The SAC and the LEP have already co-invested in facilities at the Westcott Space Cluster to provide a compelling offer to the space industry. We recognise that Westcott is perfectly placed geographically to capitalise on nearby academic and commercial expertise, to support the future success of OneWeb which has already chosen Westcott as the location for its national demonstrator site to help develop the UK’s space capabilities – and the economy – right across the country.
The Disruptive Innovation for Space Centre and Apprenticeship Academy at Westcott would be designed to enhance the domestic space industry capability, help develop new partnership arrangements both within the UK between business and academia but in also supporting international strategic collaborations to help the UK rise to this challenge.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base;
The UK has an internationally renowned space propulsion research and development capability centred at Westcott in Buckinghamshire. By linking this more closely with other leading established R&D clusters such as those at Harwell and Leicester and new manufacturing capabilities across the country we have the opportunity to develop a stronger national supply chain and to encourage nationwide collaboration. Traditionally, one of our greatest weaknesses has been this lack of collaboration particularly in research and innovation due to the absence of a National Space Strategy.
We believe that the natural strengths of the Space sector would be significantly enhanced by embracing wider collaboration incorporating disruptive thinking between other high performance technology sectors such as the automotive, marine and aeronautical sectors.
There is also the need for industry led applied R&D to be further supported from across sectors and to enhance this collaboration there needs to be further work undertaken to develop the infrastructure needed to support cross sector collaboration.
The DISC at Westcott is a prime example of the type of facility that is needed for this new approach to collaboration. It would provide an access point to specialist equipment and facilities to help companies entering, or keen to expand in, the UK market. Users will be able to rent facilities, substantially lowering research and development costs for new firms and levelling the playing field so they can compete with international primes. A complementary DISC already exists at Harwell (36 miles to the South West in Oxfordshire) and is oversubscribed – this new facility would cater for the latent demand, link to existing propulsion test facilities located at Westcott and generate new user demand through lowering barriers to entry, including for UK companies who want to create new applications. Elsewhere in Buckinghamshire this approach has been extremely successful in the development of the Silverstone Technology Cluster and we believe that there are significant opportunities to develop a competitive advantage for the UK in linking these well-established clusters more effectively with the space sector at nationally leading hub sites such as Westcott.
DISC’s impact will be felt locally, nationally and around the world. DISC is designed to help embed international primes in the UK and AVS and Lockheed Martin (amongst others) have already expressed interest in a DISC at Westcott. The facility will create new domestic supply chains and help develop and commercialise new downstream applications relying on low Earth orbit space. These applications, applied to multiple sectors such as maritime, transport, agritech etc, will generate economic opportunities throughout the UK exploiting existing regional strengths.
The DISC will lower the costs to entry and our impact analysis predicts companies using the DISC will create 634 jobs, deliver a £175m NPV directly as the result of activities within the facility, and be self-sustaining within 3 years. These job and economic numbers will magnify considerably as a result of companies growing their activities beyond the DISC as they mature. Many of those jobs will go to local people and the DISC has training at its heart, with an integrated new training and apprenticeship academy.
The DISC will not just support the local economy but create commercial opportunities across the entire country. It will support the development of product and services with international reach and appeal.
It will support OneWeb’s future success by helping develop low orbit satellite launch programmes and continued in-orbit maintenance.
The DISC will provide a blueprint for other UK innovation centres and help support the development of commercial clusters in other parts of the country.
What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of previous space strategies for the UK and the space strategies of other countries;
The new UK Space Strategy should firstly look to consider how the strengths of different assets from across the UK, including from across the devolved administrations can be better aligned to provide a national offer to the international space market. Regional hubs should be expanded to support collaboration and the existing investment in national infrastructure needs to be built upon to provide skills and R&D hubs with the capacity to grow sustainably with a first class infrastructure including accessible housing to meet the needs of both employers and employees.
The new UK Space Strategy will need to consider how the sector can operate effectively to attract, grow and develop its own talent. It has many natural advantages over other sectors but does not have the infrastructure and facilities in place to develop the technical and vocational talent that is required for the level of growth the industry requires.
The Buckinghamshire Local Industrial Strategy has correctly identified latent capability and demand within this sector, speculative R&D floorspace has been developed and utilised and there are early signs of effective working between different sectors particularly in material production for strong lightweight satellite components.
The development of industry led integrated skills and training infrastructure based at the national centres of innovation with a curriculum developed by and for business is essential for the sustainable growth of the sector. The development of the DISC and Apprenticeship Academy at Westcott, followed by specialist centres such as a National Space Propulsion Research Institute is exactly in line with this approach.
Looking 10 years into the future, Westcott could be a UK and global exemplar for skills creation aligned to a space and satellite applications ecosystem. At its heart is a Skills Academy that attracts the best local and national talent to Westcott. It will offer world-leading training and development for all ages, supporting a burgeoning space cluster that showcases UK innovation.
Such an approach has been followed in Europe particularly in relation to DLR Institute of Space Propulsion in Lampoldshausen, Germany and the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the largest ESA establishment, a test centre and hub for European space activities. It has responsibility for the technical preparation and management of ESA space projects and provides technical support to ESA’s ongoing satellite, space exploration, and human space activities.
In the United States the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Field Centres located across the country and linked to the headquarters facility in Washington offer a similar approach.