Written Evidence Submitted by the Harwell Space Cluster



Harwell Space Cluster brings together 105 space organisations

  1. Harwell Space Cluster[1] is situated at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, in Oxfordshire and currently comprises 105 space organisations, which collectively employ over 1,100 people[2]. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), through the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), provided the catalyst to coalesce the Harwell Space Cluster around the longstanding space instrumentation activities of STFC-RAL Space. The arrival of the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2009, the launch of the Satellite Applications Catapult in 2013 and the actions of the UK Space Agency all contributed to establishing Harwell Space Cluster as the prime gateway to the UK space sector.


  1. Companies at the Cluster range from start-ups through early stage companies commercialising new technology and applications, to multinationals, such as Airbus and Lockheed Martin, keen to engage with the innovation taking place. There are companies making kit to go into space and those using space data to develop applications to benefit people on Earth. There are also companies that have taken space capability to completely new markets, such as KEIT[3] which took a spectrometer designed to go into space to heavy industrial processes.


  1. With so many space organisations in one place along with a range of space relevant facilities, Harwell Space Cluster is an obvious place for international customers, collaborators and inward investors to start their engagement with the UK space sector. Through its stakeholder organisations (UKRI-STFC-RAL Space, UK Space Agency, Satellite Applications Catapult and the European Space Agency), these international opportunities are then connected to capability across the UK, supporting national supply chain development.


UKRI led the Development of the Harwell Space Cluster

  1. Harwell Science and Innovation Campus is situated half an hour south of the historic city of Oxford and is home to a unique ecosystem of innovation and enterprise. Successive UK Governments have invested in world leading science facilities at Harwell including the Diamond Synchrotron, ISIS Neutron Source and more recently the Rosalind Franklin Institute[4]. In turn this has encouraged over 200 organisations to establish operations at Harwell.


  1. Having many companies in one place is good, but to deliver innovation these organisations need to interact and discuss challenges and opportunities. To achieve this Clusters in Space, Energy and Health have been developed by UKRI, through STFC. Developing a successful cluster requires: a strong local industrial base; alignment of research capabilities including proximity to a university; local government support; a governance structure capable of providing leadership; and finally, a specialism that differentiates the Cluster. Harwell Space Cluster brings together industry, academia and public sector bodies relating to the space sector that are co-located at Harwell Campus.


  1. Clusters are an effective mechanism to drive innovation, enable collaboration and enhance commercialisation of research to deliver economic impact. Harwell Space Cluster is illustrative of the many research papers and articles written on the theory of Clusters[5].


Harwell Space Cluster is Globally Unique

  1. Harwell Space Cluster has more space companies within walking distance than any other Cluster globally[6]. This enables it to act as a showcase to international delegations and typically hosts 30-50 groups a year. The Cluster companies regularly comment that access to high quality visitors in a time effective manner is a key benefit of being part of the Harwell Space Cluster.


  1. Other reasons for being part of the Cluster include access to the other Clusters in Energy and Health as these provide potential customers and collaborators. For example, companies such as siHealth[7] and Kayser Space[8] operate at the overlap between the Space and Health Clusters, benefiting from the engagement with both networks. This multidisciplinary environment offers significant opportunities for innovation as discussions between the Clusters stimulates new ways of thinking and ideas. There is a new Cluster being established in Quantum Computing at Harwell which will offer significant opportunities for Space companies to explore the crossover between quantum and space technology.


  1. There are significant design, test and validation facilities within the stakeholder organisations at Harwell Space Cluster. For example RAL Space, which is part of STFC, has a range of thermal vacuum chambers which can simulate being in space so that satellites and their components can be tested. The largest of these will be in the National Satellite Test Facility[9] and will be able to test satellites up to 7 tonnes from 2022. The Satellite Applications Catapult has a range of antenna test facilities and companies such as RadTest[10] use the ISIS Neutron Spallation Source (operated by STFC) to test for radiation hardness of satellite components.


  1. The ESA Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC UK), managed by STFC, has provided a strong foundation for over 100 space related start-ups since it opened over 10 years ago. The alumni, most of which started at Harwell Space Cluster, has gone on to raise over £86m[11] in equity since 2011.


  1. The supportive innovation ecosystem at Harwell enables entrepreneurs to take forward their ideas and draw on the facilities, skills and expertise in the locale. There is also the safety net of a range of employment opportunities should the start-up fail. There are a number of serial entrepreneurs that recognise Harwell Campus as a good place to start businesses, for example, Mike Lawton[12] who founded Oxford Space Systems[13] and has now moved on to co-found Oxford Dynamics.


Harwell Space Cluster Supports Growth across the UK Space Sector

  1. Many of the companies at Harwell Space Cluster have operations elsewhere in the UK. The companies showcase their capabilities and expertise to customers that visit Harwell Space Cluster and then deliver the services through offices elsewhere. NORSS[14] is a prime example with offices in Harwell and the North East of England.


  1. The Harwell Space Cluster is linked to all the hubs of space activity across the UK, either directly or through the Satellite Applications Catapult’s and UK Space Agency’s Regional Teams. There are significant opportunities to build on this and improve the national linkage of space activities across the UK so that supply chains are developed to ensure the whole of the UK benefits from the Global opportunities in space that Harwell Space Cluster attracts.


  1. The Harwell Space Cluster works closely with the Department of International Trade, hosting many international delegations each year, including the Australian delegation that catalysed the UK-Australia Space Bridge[15]. The National Space Strategy offers the opportunity to take a coordinated approach across agencies within government, to develop a clear narrative of the UK’s space sector offering, ensuring the UK strengthens its ability to attract and win the compelling international opportunities.


  1. Harwell Space Cluster organisations collectively employ over 1,100 people with expertise in everything from orbital analytics to material science and includes finance, project management and communications. Organisations across Harwell Campus are exploring how their impressive infrastructure and expertise can be leveraged to address national skills challenges. For example, the Harwell Space Cluster is looking to build a cohort of Level 4 Space Engineering Technician apprentices and STFC has developed a Skills Factory proposal.


(October 2021)

[1] https://www.harwellcampus.com/wp-content/uploads/HAR5024-Space_Cluster_Brochure-v18.pdf

[2] https://www.harwellcampus.com/news/harwell-space-cluster-growth/

[3] https://keit.co.uk/

[4] https://www.rfi.ac.uk/rosalind-franklin-institute-building-officially-opens/

[5] Journal British Interplanetary Society Paper: http://purl.org/net/epubs/work/47614523

[6] https://www.harwellcampus.com/wp-content/uploads/Harwell-Space-Cluster-Strategy-2020-web.pdf

[7] https://www.sihealth.co.uk/

[8] http://www.kayserspace.co.uk/

[9] https://www.ukri.org/our-work/our-main-funds/industrial-strategy-challenge-fund/future-of-mobility/national-satellite-test-facility/

[10] https://www.radtest.co.uk/

[11] https://www.esa.int/Space_in_Member_States/United_Kingdom/ESA_uses_space_to_boost_100th_UK_start-up_company

[12] https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikelawton1/

[13] https://oxford.space/

[14] https://www.norss.co.uk/

[15] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/space-bridge-across-the-world-will-help-uk-and-australia-get-ahead-in-global-space-race