UKspace Chair, Graham Peters, gave the following speech to the Parliamentary Space Committee on 23 October 2019.
Thank you Minister. Thank you ADS and Tom Rawlison in particular for organising this event, and of course to David Morris and Mark Garnier for your enthusiastic support.
With everything else that’s going on, its easy to forget the historical events we have celebrated this year. 75 years since the D-Day landings, 50 years since Neil Armstrong planted his foot on the Moon, and 30 years since the invention of the internet.
But of most relevance to our breakfast today, and less well known, is that it was ten years ago when we started work with the then Science Minister, Lord Drayson, on writing the Space Innovation Growth Strategy which set the ambitious target to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030. That ambition lives on. The IGS was refreshed in 2014 under the coalition, and the partnership between industry and academia now operates under the Space Growth Partnership which, last year, published an updated blueprint for the sector, “Prosperity from Space”.
Many people still often think of space in terms of the quest to reach new frontiers. Every week there seems to be a new breakthrough to marvel over: the first discovery of water on a potentially habitable planet, the first image of a black hole, or the first plans for a sustainable base on the moon.
Over the next 50 years, there is almost certainly more to come. With technological leaps forward and a new generation of entrepreneurs emerging, we look set for a bold new era of space development. However, it is the critical importance of the space sector to peoples’ everyday lives, and the big potential of the UK to lead the world in developing new practical and commercial opportunities, that government strategy cannot afford to ignore.
The UK space sector powers the hundreds of communications satellites in orbit that mean that radio, television and telephone and broadband can be delivered anywhere in the world. It is behind the navigation satellites that do not just help us to travel around our cities and towns; they also underpin our emergency, aviation and logistics systems. And space underpins the Earth observation satellites that are both a vital element of national security and an increasingly important weapon in the fight against climate change.
In some ways, ten years is not long ago, but in others it’s a lifetime. The IGS changed the landscape of the UK space sector in numerous ways. ESA setting up a facility in the UK – ECSAT in Harwell; the creation of the UK Space Agency and Satellite Applications Catapult; Tim Peake going to the International Space Station; space clusters springing up all over the UK with space activities literally from the tip of Cornwall to the North of Scotland; and launch activities returning to the UK after an absence of nearly 30 years.
This sector has trebled in size, in real terms, since 2000 and in so many respects, it is thriving.
However, we are now at a crossroads. Whether the UK space sector continues to grow as it has done, will depend on the political choices made now. The global space market is growing exponentially, and other nations are waking up to the huge opportunities this offers – both commercially and to national security.
Across this backdrop, the UK space industry is calling on policymakers of all parties to support the sector as a key national asset that delivers both taxpayer and political value. And raising awareness of this in Parliament is, in my view, one of the functions of this Parliamentary Space Committee.
An immediate priority for the sector is preparation for the ESA Council of Ministers meeting which takes place on 27-28 November. It is essential that the UK is in a position to subscribe to the next four-year ESA programme and to negotiate leading roles for the UK. Programme decisions are taken at the meeting and it is now urgent that the UK Space Agency gets its mandate. Thank you Minister for your recognition and support on this.
We are very encouraged by the positive moves to help boost the growth of the sector through creation of an Innovation Fund as part of a National Space Programme and the establishment of the National Space Council.
The National Space Programme’s innovation fund was proposed by in the Prosperity from Space strategy to sit alongside our contributions to the European Space Agency. The aim is to provide a consistent and strategic approach to taking forward UK and sector priorities for space research & innovation. Jointly funded by sector and Government, it will be an important element of enabling UK businesses and universities to pursue the £75bn in emerging worldwide opportunities for space over the next decade.
The National Space Council was announced in June 2019 to provide strategic leadership on space across government, coordinating all aspects of the UK’s space strategy, investment and use of space. And that’s particularly important given that space touches so much of what government does.
And on top of all, there is an enormous opportunity we have to lead the way in using satellite technology to tackle climate change. The UK has taken a world lead in committing to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But, as many have since pointed out, tougher targets are meaningless without new ideas and practical plans to deliver them.
The space industry is already equipping policymakers with tools to help monitor and improve the environment as never before. Already, the UK Space Agency’s ‘Space for Smarter Government’ Programme has demonstrated the feasibility of an “Air Quality Hotspot Mapper” which could help the NHS manage the health fallout of poor air quality. On a global level, we are using space expertise to monitor forests, rivers, lakes, oceans, volcanoes, deserts, coast lines, ice caps, atmospheric changes and conditions such as the El Nino climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean, which has a global impact on weather patterns.
By properly investing in the UK space industry, the UK could yet assume the position of world leader in action as well as words – capitalising on a massive global market in environmental protection and monitoring. It would mean a new industrial revolution right here in the UK, creating thousands of new green jobs spread across all our regions, while helping to deepen our trading relationships around the world.
The 1969 moon landing came after John F. Kennedy boldly set out to overtake the Soviet Union in the space race. Although Neil Armstrong’s first steps resulted from competition between the superpowers, the space sector throughout the world went on to generate extraordinary co-operation between nations and scientific discoveries that benefit all of us. In 2019, there is an entirely different contest occurring as rival nations set their sights on the rapidly growing global spacetech market.
We look forward to continue to work with parliamentarians of all parties through this Committee to help us to ensure that the UK is on the front foot when it comes to space.