The history of the UK space sector

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George Freeman, who replaced Amanda Solloway as Science Minister last month, called the UK a “science superpower” when he revealed the Government’s historic National Space Strategy. The document set out a roadmap for the Government to expand the UK’s influence in the global space market, which in 2019 alone was worth a staggering £270billion. Industry insiders have welcomed the Government’s commitment to space but have warned there are still many challenges that lay ahead.

Will Whitehorn, Chair of Seraphim Space Investment Trust and former president of Virgin Galactic, thinks the UK is in a good position to achieve its objectives.

Pre-pandemic, the UK space industry was estimated to be worth about £16billion.

And the UK’s share of the global market was estimated to account for about six percent.

Mr Whitehorn, who described the space strategy as a “good piece of work”, thinks the Government has also done a good job of highlighting the role of space in the fight against climate change.

This, he argued, will open up new possibilities for companies to launch the “dirtiest industries” into orbit.

Crypto-mining operations, large data centres, and even power generation can be done from space, easing their impact on the climate down on Earth.

Mr Whitehorn said: “It’s achievable by Government helping the private industry, by providing the right regulatory environment, providing the right investment environment.

“So the money really comes into these new types of businesses and Britain’s got some great examples of companies but they’ve raised a lot of their money abroad – some of it here and a lot of abroad, particularly in the United States.

Dr. David Whitehouse hails UK as 'major player' in space industries

“But we already have businesses that will be at the forefront of this kind of activities.

“OneWeb being one example, where the Government invested in a year-and-a-half ago.”

The Government’s strategy will look to grab a bigger piece of the global pie by strengthening international cooperation, investing in domestic opportunities and capitalising on the UK’s illustrious history of scientific achievements.

And it is a very lucrative pie the Government will not want to miss out on.

By 2030, the global market is forecast to nearly double in value to an eyewatering £490billion.

In his foreword to the strategy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the roadmap will “level up the UK”.

And with projects like Spaceport Sutherland and Spaceport Cornwall, the UK is already poised to dominate the European launch market.

Later next year, the UK will become the first nation to launch a rocket from European soil.

Mr Johnson went on to call the strategy a “plan that will see us take a leading role on the international stage”.

However, Mr Whitehorn has warned the international stage is a fiercely competitive market and the UK will need to expand its launch capabilities in the coming years.

Countries like the US, China, Russia, Japan and even Italy and France are already spending more on the space sector than the UK.

Mr Whitehorn said: “We’ve got to gear up at every level.

“We have an industry here that relies on exports, which is a good thing, to keep itself going.

“But it’s now got to gear up domestically and actually start building kit here and sending it to space from here.

“We can’t rely on others for these things.”

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