A forthcoming report from space industry leaders, to be published next week, shows £270 billion of UK economic output is now dependent on data from non-UK satellites.
The authors raise fears over this level of dependency in an era of growing cyber attacks and the rising threat of ‘space war’ from hostile powers.
While government has announced a “National Cyber Force” to improve Britain’s satellite defences, space industry figures warn the real problem is our dependency on space assets owned and operated by other countries. They urge the Prime Minister to build up the UK’s own sovereign capability in space in order to protect our economic resilience and recovery:
- The new report, entitled, ‘Securing Our Future in Space,’ is being published next week by the UK’s space industry association, UKspace. It shows over 90% of the communications and data used to facilitate critical business activity in the UK comes via foreign satellites. This is despite satellites being designated as ‘critical national infrastructure’.
- The findings have already been discussed with government ministers and MPs. They contain independent analysis by former Bank of England economist, Steve Hughes, who suggests that more than £300bn of the UK’s business output is now enabled by satellite data, around £270bn of which comes from overseas.
- This dependency is increasing as the economy relies more and more on digital satellite services such as GPS, online business, email and mobile telephony: by 2030, the output dependent on satellites will reach at least £340bn, and the proportion dependent on overseas satellites to £306bn.
- The authors argue that while international cooperation on satellites data is positive, this huge level of dependency means the UK has very limited ability to protect the data assets our economy relies on from cyber attack and potential “space conflict”, where satellites are disabled or destroyed in orbit by hostile powers. We can only realistically expect to be able to protect a small proportion of UK-based satellites that provide critical data, although international strategic alliances such as NATO could help if effective co-ordination is achieved.
- The report estimates that even a short, temporary disruption resulting from such events would be catastrophic, leading to an “economic blackout” that would wreak havoc on business and essential public services.
- The report warns that the UK invests far too little on space compared to peer countries: the UK Space Agency has an annual budget of £500 million, around a third that of France’s equivalent, and less than half as much as Germany’s.
- The authors call on the Prime Minister to boost UK sovereign space capability, including via the establishment of a new body focused on national space procurement and by beefing up government’s capabilities to deliver space projects.
Nick Shave, Chair of UKspace, said: “Data from satellites has become so critical to our everyday lives that even a temporary disruption would cause an economic blackout of frightening proportions. Building up our own national capabilities is essential for our security, and also an opportunity to create new jobs, driving a stronger recovery across the country.
“The risk is that we could soon be permanently stuck as a “lower tier” space faring nation, sleepwalking into greater and greater dependency on other countries for our economic security and as the fast growing global space economy, predicted to be a £400 billion sector by 2030, grows around us.”
Darren Jones MP, Chair of the BEIS Select Committee, said: “The Prime Minister says he wants the UK to be a major space power, but the reality is very far from that and leaving EU space programmes will push us further away. Falling behind other nations on space leaves us with big concerns over economic resilience and cuts us off from a growing global space market worth hundreds of billions. I welcome this report and urge the Prime Minister to take action on its findings.”
Notes to Editors
The full report, Securing our Future in Space, will be published in the week commencing 30 November.
A link to the report will be available on the UKspace website.
The economic analysis for the report and forecasting of the value of economic output dependent on space data, including from overseas owned and operated satellites, was conducted by former Bank of England economist, Steve Hughes.
Three new pieces of analysis will appear in the research:
- The present £300 billion of output enabled by satellite data is projected to reach at least £340 billion by 2030, based on conservative economic modelling.
- This growth will be critical to levelling up: satellites currently support around £52 billion of output in the North, for example, and over £40 billion in the Midlands, and we expect these figures to reach £59 billion for the North and £46 billion for the Midlands by 2030.
- Of the £300 billion of UK output dependent on data sent through non-UK owned and operated satellites, we estimate conservatively that at least 90% (£270 billion) of this is from non-UK satellites and that this proportion will reach £306 billion by 2030 – or more if Britain falls further behind other countries.
The report includes three recommendations to build up UK-based sovereign capability:
- Establish a Space Innovation Fund of £150m per year, sustained over 10 years. This would bring new advances in technology, research and science to commercially viable projects and thus create huge new value for the UK.
- Create a National Procurement Fund of £250m per year, sustained over 10 years, for the specific procurement by government of UK products and services. This would help grow our domestic space sector, enabling UK space products and services to play a much bigger role in our trading with the rest of the world.
- Boost delivery: to drive the programme of complex, hi-tech initiatives forward. Such an agency would be accountable to the National Space Council with a focus on delivery. This would complement the UK Space Agency’s key roles of policy, relations with international space agencies, and regulatory aspects which are best developed from within Government by Government.
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