Written Evidence Submitted by The British Interplanetary Society
- Established in 1933, The British Interplanetary Society, henceforth BIS, is the oldest space advocacy society in the world. The Society develops new thinking, engages corporations and individuals across the space industry as well as celebrates innovation within the space sector, both in the UK and overseas; our work engages over 20,000 people worldwide. The Society is excited by the growing ambition of the government in supporting space-based industries within Britain and looks forward to conveying the views of our society. This response has been informed by our members, consisting of industry leaders, innovators, academics, those based in established aerospace companies, disrupters, new Space pioneers, space lawyers and many more; possessing the expertise and experience necessary to assist the government in their ambition to enhance the prosperity of the UK space strategy.
About the British Interplanetary Society:
- The BIS considers itself a leading independent voice to influence and promote the British space sector. Primarily funded by individual memberships, the BIS exists to innovate, inform and create new opportunities in British and global space-based industries. This provides us with in a unique position to inform this inquiry with the expertise, experience and thoughts collated from professionals across the industry with the aim to promote activity in space-based industries, free from commercial interest or influence.
- The BIS has been a leading voice in the space sector for nearly 90 years through its publications, advocacy work and technical projects. The BIS has a long history of developing technical projects with some of the Country’s foremost engineers and thinkers – from the well documented Project Daedalus in the 1970s to current work on projects such as; Tokamak Nuclear Electric Propulsion, aiming to produce a space platform that can deliver over 1kW/kg of nuclear power. The BIS also publishes a collection of renowned magazines, including SpaceFlight which highlights news and technological advances in the industry in addition to our peer-reviewed technical journal JBIS.
- The BIS has a wide number of partnerships. We were instrumental leaders in the founding of the International Astronautical Federation, which now numbers most international space agencies (including ESA, NASA and UKSA) amongst its members, alongside other space societies and major corporations. In collaboration with the UK Space Agency, we run the UK Pavilion at the IAF’s International Astronautical Congress. We are the UK national co-ordinators for the UN declared World Space Week, bringing together very different players to raise awareness and excitement in the public, families and young people about the role of space in our everyday lives. To play our part in improving diversity in representation within the sector, we have a Europe-wide partnership with Women in Aerospace: Europe, and we also run our own Next Generation Network, developing new opportunities for 18-35 year olds through careers support and networking opportunities. For the British space sector to reach its full potential, we believe that young people and midcareer professionals need to understand that there is a marketplace for a realistic career in the space sector, that is attainable for them. Only by demonstrating to the global industry that there is a skilled workforce can we become a globally attractive base for space companies.
Prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation
- This year, the BIS is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Arrow rocket, demonstrating the innovation and determination of the British space sector. Black Arrow was the first British vehicle to be launched on a British-made launcher, carrying the British satellite Prospero on board, quite a triumph. Black Arrow’s funding had been cut earlier in the same year due to some unsuccessful launch attempts but the scientists behind the project carried on as their fifth and final launcher was already built. Whilst Black Arrow was short-lived, it perfectly demonstrated the capability of British innovation and the ability for Britain to be a leading space nation.
- Fast forward fifty years, the global position of Britain as a space nation is poorly publicised despite possessing some areas of world-leading expertise in the space sector. For example, the Harwell Space Cluster demonstrates the very best of pioneering technological development and engineering, providing infrastructure for development in the public and private sector. To establish the UK as a leading space nation, our first recommendation is for the Government to focus on increasing the global publicity of innovation in the UK space sector. The benefit for doing so is that it will encourage international organisations and start-ups to establish bases in Britain being incentivised by the services we offer to encourage development in the space sector. The space sector is a collaborative industry that relies on multiple companies developing and supplying parts, meaning an influx of new space companies to the UK would draw other companies or encourage start-ups to supply parts for the larger companies. This would further increase the size of the UK space sector, not only establishing us as a leading space nation but also increasing the demand for skilled workers in the UK economy. Therefore, greater publicity of British aerospace activities could help to define us as a leading space nation.
Aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy
- The current focus of the UK space strategy is largely invested in low orbit satellites. Current revenue and employment is heavily based on the contribution of British Sky Broadcasting. It is therefore centred round satellite and broadcasting despite Sky using a Luxembourg owned and operated satellite. Satellites are a largely saturated and highly competitive field in which the UK might struggle to achieve a representative market share. The United States has an established catalogue of satellite launchers such as Space X’s Falcon 9 and Atlas V, which are proving dominant in this competitive market; thus, it will be challenging for the UK satellite launch corporations to develop a large market share, particularly as UK commercial spaceports are yet to be operational at the time of writing.
- The British Interplanetary Society strongly recommends the aim of the UK Space Strategy be to focus on and look towards the next steps for the international space sector, namely lunar landings and exploration of Mars. With a goal of holding 40% of the world’s space industry and seeing another 100,000 in employment, the UK needs to be taking a role in advocating for human spaceflight. As our recommendations below will demonstrate, by being the leader in regulatory frameworks, lunar governance and supporting space-based careers, the United Kingdom can become a leading space nation whilst the international space sector goes through one of its biggest resurgences and structural changes in its history.
Research Funding, Investment and Economic Growth
- One of the strengths of the UK space sector is the excellent support provided to start-ups and small businesses through financial and business development advice. This markets the UK space sector as a centre of innovation, incentivising new ventures to establish offices or research facilities in the UK. However, our members have informed us that support begins to diminish as businesses reach the critical scaling up phase of their development. It is in this pivotal time for these businesses that they may be tempted to move to rival space nations that offer better financial investments and incentives. Our members informed us that space nations such as Luxembourg offer a more attractive proposition for space companies to relocate to, heavily increasing their chances of scaling up to become a large and dominant business in the field. This is a huge loss for the UK space sector, losing both pioneering organisations and the return on the investment the UK has made to help these organisations start. Furthermore, some of our members reported they were being influenced to also relocate, following their companies; thus, resulting in the brain drain and a reduction in the quality of British aerospace. It is by retaining these large businesses that the UK will develop a large space sector and also encourage the establishment of new businesses or the relocation to the UK of others to supply goods and services to these larger companies, causing a boost to the space industry.
- The UK may not be able to compete with the tax incentives of Luxembourg, but we could do more to financially assist the scaling up of small businesses based in our space industry. Therefore, the BIS recommend the Government focus on providing nation-leading financial assistance to businesses to help them scale-up and remain rooted in the United Kingdom. Doing so will increase the return made on the initial investment into small businesses both through tax revenue and the boost to the economy that scaling up these businesses to become large businesses would create. Furthermore, this will encourage the start-up or relocation of small businesses to provide services to these larger businesses and increase the demand for skilled workers in the United Kingdom, creating employment opportunities for Britons in the aerospace industry.
Skills and Diversity
- The British Interplanetary Society is lucky to have so many young professionals as members and even operate the Next Generation Network, connecting young people and developing new opportunities in the space sector. Our members spoke to us at great length to share their journeys and struggles to get into the UK space sector and they consider a push, to create UK-based courses and job opportunities, would not only prevent Britons from learning and working in other space nations but also increase the probability that a young person would like to learn and work in the UK space sector. One member reported they had to gain UK Space Agency funding for their space-based studies by applying through the International Space University in France – meaning they had to go to a different country to gain UK support. This demonstrates there is not currently a coherent or sustainable way to grow a domestic workforce within the sector.
- Furthermore, there is limited public knowledge of the space sector which prevents people from entering the industry and from knowing the opportunities available in the industry other than engineering jobs such as the health and life science sector and crucially space law which currently faces skilled worker shortages. This prevents the UK from becoming a leading space nation as people are not aware of the opportunities available in the sector and delays the Government from reaching its goal of an additional 100,000 people in the workforce.
- Our Society recommends the Government focus on creating a consistent approach to growing university apprenticeship and technical courses that support space careers, with space being perceived as an achievable ambition. By creating these courses and publicising them to school-leavers and young people, the UK will increase the number of skilled workers and research conducted in the space industry. Consequently, this causes innovation in the sector and attracts businesses to establish operations in the United Kingdom where there is a large supply of skilled workers. This will result in the UK becoming a leading space nation both for business and education.
- The UK is home to leading technological developments in the space sector such as pushing for space sustainability by clearing space debris and developing new, more efficient, rockets. However, the media largely focuses on the billionaire space race and often ignores British technological advances in the space sector.
- The BIS recommends the Government focus on establishing the UK’s role in space within the perception of the public, industry and international players. We need to end the perception that space is something done by other countries and by the corporations of billionaires. This requires an international marketing campaign to highlight and raise the profile of the existing space-based work taking place across the country. This could result in companies being attracted to the UK space sector due to another company developing components or conducting research they may require. The UK space sector prides itself on collaboration which will only be strengthened by raising the international profile of the UK space industry.
- Additionally, one of the many strengths of the UK has been in showing global leadership on a range of issues, working with international partners. Currently, there is a vacuum to create legislation at the international level that can govern operating practices.
- The BIS recommends that the UK government establish a policy unit within the FCDO that can handle and lead on international diplomacy with the aim of leading an international coalition to determine key areas of space law. Whilst the G7 commitment to space debris was a massive step forward led by British civil servants, there is a need to go further and create a fuller framework that can provide companies clarity on issues relating to the clear up of satellites, rocket stages and other items trapped in orbit. In doing so, the UK could become the leader in space law and sustainability in space. This would create confidence for space sustainability companies, enabling the expansion of these operations as well as attracting international companies also working on sustainability to establish operations in the UK.
- The British Interplanetary Society is enthused by the resurgence in the desire for lunar landings both by states and private firms. Private firms have stated ambitious plans to go to the moon; however, there are concerns regarding their utilisation of lunar resources. Previously, the UK successfully led efforts at the UN General Assembly and Conference on disarmament to introduce models and solutions to reduce space threats, avoid the militarisation and weaponisation of space (FCO, 2020). This initiative received overwhelming support from the international community.
- The BIS has worked closely with the SGAC E.A.G.L.E Team to recommend the UK focus on leading international conversations and push for a lunar governance framework. There is a recognised need for a globally accepted international framework in lunar governance that could harmonise the adaptation of the Outer Space Treaty to lunar activities as well its implementation at a national level.
- The UK government could focus on conflict resolution, already possessing an advantage over other states in this field (E.A.G.L.E, 2021). Most arbitration in space disputes is based on UK common law and the UK possesses strong historical expertise in conflict resolution, as a peace-keeping nation. Subsequently, the UK could lead in enabling amicable conflict resolution in lunar activity when it arises, creating an international framework that other states could adopt.
- Furthermore, the UK could become a leader in multistakeholder dialogue (E.A.G.L.E, 2021). The UK benefits from possessing a thriving private sector and has an aptitude for forming effective public-private partnerships. Therefore, the UK has the opportunity to pave the way in integrating the voice of the private space industry into international diplomatic conversations to ensure solutions are created with a multistakeholder lens.
- The UK has the potential to lead this effort to create an international consensus and framework, with extensive financial benefits for doing so at a national level. The BIS believes that in becoming a world leader in this way, the UK could attract significant industry investment by becoming the natural home for those working in lunar activities requiring expertise in the development of such frameworks and laws. By creating these frameworks and being the first nation to adopt them, enterprises across the world will be drawn to start or move operations to the UK, deeming the UK government as efficient framework adopters, signifying it will be the most efficient state for them to operate in. Furthermore, by leading the framework to prevent armed conflicts in space, countries will turn to the UK as a leader in space law, creating the possibility to be a nation leader in space law. Space law is an underrepresented sector that will become increasingly demanded as explorations to the Moon and Mars commence. Subsequently, the UK has a chance to be one of the first nations to pioneer space law and become the leading space nation it desires to be.
- The British Interplanetary Society thanks the UK Space Strategy inquiry for considering our thoughts and allowing us to submit evidence later than planned. Our society occupies a unique position in the space sector where we represent industry experts, young professionals and enthusiasts without financial influence. We research, innovate, collaborate and advocate due to our passion for space exploration and desire to see the UK become a great space nation. The Society is enthused by the work of both the select committee and the UK government to establish a new space strategy and ensure we become a leading centre of innovation, technological development and diversity within the international space station.
- The BIS has provided a summary of our thoughts on the UK space strategy but still has several thoughts we could not list in this submission as well as more information and evidence to provide on the ideas we have submitted in this document. The British Interplanetary Society would welcome the opportunity to submit oral evidence to discuss our ideas at greater length.
Effective and Adaptive Governance for a Lunar Ecosystem, (2021). Lunar Governance Report [online]. Available at: EAGLE Report (spacegeneration.org)
Foreign Common Office, (2020). [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-push-for-landmark-un-resolution-to-agree-responsible-behaviour-in-space