UKspace Chair Graham Peters is optimistic about what opportunities and developments 2020 will bring for the space sector in the UK and the wider international space community, building upon a series of significant advances and announcements in recent months.
The final years of the last decade witnessed huge levels of political uncertainty and a changed landscape for the UK space sector. A pivotal moment, in my opinion, was Britain’s exclusion from Galileo by the European Union. This was an extremely regrettable outcome but one of the unintended benefits was that space suddenly became very relevant politically. Soon we had Boris Johnson standing outside 10 Downing Street shortly after becoming Prime Minister proclaiming “Let’s get going now on our own position navigation and timing satellite and earth observation systems.” The change in narrative has had a profound impact across government on the way it looks at space.
Building on progress with government
As a trade organisation, we set ourselves four objectives last year. The first was to secure solid investment into the European Space Agency (ESA); second was to secure funding for the National Space Programme; third was funding for the UK Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) programme; and the final one was the commitment to establish and operate the National Space Council – joining up space policy across government.
Looking back, we achieved a record investment in ESA, with an annual commitment of £374m; the National Space Council was announced during Donald Trump’s visit in June and progress is being made on its implementation; there are positive signals around a National Space Innovation Fund as part of National Space Programme; and the 2019 Spending Review detailed £191m of funding to support delivery of Brexit-related activities, including the continued development of a UK GNSS option. Although the ESA funding is the only one with a solid tick against it, positive progress is being made in each of the other areas.
Currently, significant work is going on in government to set up the National Space Council – which was referenced in both Queen’s Speeches (in October and December 2019) – and we anticipate the Council’s first meetings taking place in the first quarter of 2020. Its establishment will provide a more joined up and coherent approach to space strategy across UK government, particularly for civil and military space, as well as opportunities for government and industry to work together on more innovative approaches to funding new space infrastructure and services.
This is a great way of encouraging investors and venture capitalists to put money into new space projects, without government needing to be the exclusive funder. It also has the benefit of increasing the percentage of R&D invested by the private sector into space infrastructure. This mirrors US practices where NASA has been acting as an anchor customer for new services, and we’ve seen other countries adopting similar strategies. One of the challenges in moving forward with this has been the fragmented nature of space within government.
If the government gets it right from a policy perspective, this would be applicable across all space domains, from launch through to telecoms and earth observation (EO). All of them can potentially benefit from government acting in this way, whereby different departments come together to procure capability that the infrastructure provides. This will also allow industry to secure private investment on the back of those commitments, while work flows into the supply chain to service the UK operators and system primes.
Reshaping UKspace in line with changing UK landscape
One of other priorities for 2020, is to ensure the trade association is fit-for-purpose so it can interface effectively and support the National Space Council.
With this in mind, we’ve recently kicked off an activity to look at best of breed models for trade associations, and in particular how other sector UK trade associations interface with government and provide services to their members. This has included a survey through which all our members had the opportunity to respond. The Satellite Applications Catapult is working with us on this and is reviewing all the responses and conducting interviews with a range of respondents and stakeholders. These will help to shape a set of recommendations about how UKspace operates going forward and some of the additional services we’d like to provide to members to increase the benefits they receive. I’m expecting to be able to announce next steps in the next couple of months.
Using satellites to monitor, manage and respond to climate change
Later this year, the 2020 United National Climate Change Conference (COP26) is taking place in Glasgow (9-19 November). This will be a hugely relevant and important event for the UK space industry, given the key role of space infrastructure in monitoring climate change and its environmental, economic and societal consequences.
Our sector needs to be not only focussing on the economic growth targets for 2030 and beyond, but also on the environmental agenda, in particular climate change and how space can help achieve the carbon-neutral targets put into law by the government last year.
Scientists are already incredibly dependent upon satellites for climate monitoring, reflected in the fact that 35 of the 45 key performance indicators set for monitoring climate change require satellite data. We can also use satellite data to monitor activities that seek to manage climate change. For example, on international treaties – such as around planting trees to help absorb carbon dioxide – satellite data can help monitor countries’ commitments.
As a sector, we must do more work to explain how satellites support many of the actions in direct response to climate change. This relates to the more effective use of satellite data to support other sectors, such as transport, finance and agriculture, amongst many others. Space can be used not only to manage climate change, but also underpin ways to reduce it and respond to its impact.