Speech

Growth of the UK space sector

Speech given at the Royal Aeronautical Society President’s Conference.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP

Good morning.

I have already had a momentous morning as I had the great pleasure of meeting Charlie Bolden - NASA administrator and former astronaut - just before I arrived here.

Meeting him was certainly a reminder of how space can be an inspiration and I know that my children will be looking forward to me reporting back. I have been very encouraged to hear of the events that have already been held at this conference to bring in the next generation - and I thank Bill Tyack for his commitment to this.

I understand that Charlie Bolden spoke to you yesterday about entering a ‘golden age’ of global cooperation on exploration and we had a very enlightening conversation about the state of UK-US collaboration on space over breakfast. I saw this myself first hand yesterday at the opening of the operational space weather centre at the Met Office, which has been taken forward in close partnership with the US.

Now, Charlie has an advantage on me when talking about this in that he is one of the pioneers of human spaceflight, having been to space and having been part of the historic first joint Shuttle mission with Russia. As an astronaut and in his career, he has ‘Been there. Done that. Got the Administrator-ship of a multi-billion pound space agency.’ Not many people can say that.

The UK Space Agency is only 4 years old. It isn’t NASA, and it is not trying to compete with that extraordinary legacy. But, from my first 3 months in this post, I believe there’s something that we have here in Europe - and in the UK space sector in particular - that is very special and we can reflect positively on.

In Europe, cooperation has been a way of life ever since the earliest days of the European Space Research Organisation and European Launcher Development Organisation in the 1960’s. And then in 1974, that cooperation was enshrined into practice with the creation of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Through ESA, we have achieved incredible things - often in partnership with NASA and with others around the world. Together, we have gazed into the origins of our universe with the Herschel and Planck telescopes, studied our changing planet with the EnviSat mission, and have all watched in awe as the first results stream in from the Rosetta comet mission.

Charlie is right - the future of cooperation is even brighter than the past, built on the sort of international partnerships that we thrive on here in the UK and I know many people in this room have been responsible for forging those partnerships.

A European consortium, led by the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, recently delivered the Mid-InfraRed Instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope. With the launch of the first Copernicus satellite this year, European partnership is now delivering a ground-breaking stream of data about our changing planet to researchers, businesses, and governments free of charge. More satellites, and better data, will follow, creating opportunities for communities around the world.

In 2012, for the first time in the history of the programme, the UK has joined the International Space Station consortium, opening up a multi-billion pound scientific platform to UK scientists and engineers. We’re only about a year away from Tim Peake, the British ESA astronaut’s flight to the ISS, a 6 month mission. I had the great pleasure of meeting Tim earlier in the year and the incredible preparation that he is putting into his mission will inspire millions around the country, including the next generation of scientists and engineers to be a part of a resurgent British space sector. I am immensely proud to be the minister for a sector that is in such good shape and I believe that space is more important for Britain than ever before.

At Farnborough, we announced that 34,000 people were directly employed by the UK space sector in 2012 to 2013. This figure is emblematic of a sector that has continued to grow through the difficult economic times of the last 6 years with its eyes on an ambitious target of 10% of the global space market by 2030.

Today the UK Space Agency is publishing the full report on the ‘Size and health of the UK space sector’ for 2014. Space in the UK contributes an impressive £11.3 billion to the UK economy each year and has been growing at an average of 7.2% over the last 2 years. This report digs into the detail of where that growth is occurring, how it is being supported and where the challenges may be in understanding the broader impact of the space sector. This is something that that those in the sector could help to underline further – the real impact that space is having on our economy.

Cooperation is the foundation for this continued success. Working hand in hand with academic partners and the private sector, we are committed to those targets set by the Space innovation and growth strategy.

With funding made available through a targeted approach but a central pot funding through the European Space Agency, cooperation delivers real jobs and real returns for the economy.

There is a real role for the public sector here. This government can help through de-risking technology, ensuring a clear regulatory framework, and taking strategic decisions to support the long-term growth of the sector.

You heard about one of this government’s ambitions at the Farnborough Space conference this year – namely, our plans to seize a chunk of a potential £40 billion commercial spaceflight market by creating a UK spaceport and clarifying the regulatory framework necessary to operate spaceplanes from the UK.

Satellites are more ubiquitous and increasingly part of our everyday lives. And increasingly satellite data offers an answer to problems we never previously associated with space. Airports can use satellite navigation capability to keep flights operating, even in bad weather. Broadband services can be delivered to communities and families in remote areas where it may not be available by more traditional methods. Farmers can monitor precisely which parts of the field are producing the most crop and more efficiently use pesticides and fertilizers. Fishing boats off the coast of Africa can be tracked at a control centre in Europe to put a stop to illegal fishing. We can also monitor and mitigate space weather events, as I saw yesterday at the Met Office.

With our world-leading and incredible important satellite manufacturing base, an innovative scientific community and continued support from government we are in a fabulous position to create the infrastructure that we need in this country using satellite technology and services. Between ESA’S Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT), the Satellite Applications Catapult and a growing industry presence, the UK Space Gateway in Harwell is becoming a model for international cooperation.

Meanwhile, the technologies to deliver a world underpinned by satellite technology are now just over the horizon and in some cases within our grasp we need the infrastructure to deliver them.

Commercial launch services are changing the economics of space. And 2-stage launch systems, using traditional airplane technology paired with rocket engines, are on the cusp of normal commercial operation. Commercial spaceflight alone has an estimated global market of £40 billion by 2030.

We have a firm ambition to establish a spaceport in the UK by 2018, and if we can capture even 10% of that market, we will be well on our way to reaching our target for the space sector as a whole.

A major part of ensuring safe operations and creating the right economic environment will be the selection and development of the right facilities for a UK spaceport. The consultation on the criteria for choosing a location for a UK spaceport closed on Monday of this week (6 October). There is tremendous interest in this, as I saw in Cornwall in Tuesday, where Newquay has put in its case for the space port. The National Spaceflight Coordination Group will be taking those responses, considering them carefully and I hope to make some further announcements in the New Year.

And we recognize that we’re not starting in a vacuum. Our team here in the UK has worked extensively with the US Federal Aviation Administration, with commercial space companies and with other partners around the world to help get the environment right for commercial spaceflight in the UK. That is again international cooperation in action.

So we are laying the foundations for tomorrow’s growth today. There should be no doubt that this government is absolutely committed to the future success of our space sector. We are in it for the long term and it has our whole hearted support and enthusiasm.

A major part of that will be the preparations for the European Space Agency’s upcoming Council of Ministers in December. You’ll all no doubt be aware of that the futures of critical international programmes, such as the International Space Station, are set to be discussed with my colleagues from across Europe. I have had some initial conversations with European science ministers and I am looking forward to taking this forward.

While we won’t be looking at the remarkable step-change that we saw in 2012, I will be heading to Luxembourg to try and ensure that the UK remains a committed player in ESA and that we continue to see the benefits of cooperation at a European level.

And international partnership does deliver real results for the UK space sector.

Last week, thanks to David Parker’s efforts and the UK Space Agency’s investment in the International Space Station, the UK subsidiary of global communications company MDA has won the first phase of a contract to supply the European module of the ISS with its own data relay terminal. The contract totals approximately €14 million, with delivery of the terminal to the European Space Agency expected by the end of 2016.

And this is just a single UK contribution to the already incredibly impressive platform of the ISS. When MDA’s Ka band data relay terminal is installed the European astronauts and scientists will benefit from higher bandwidth communications, and faster delivery of scientific data and high definition video imagery using the European Data Relay System (EDRS).

MDA’s UK subsidiary is based at the UK Space Gateway in Harwell Oxford, which is one of the potential locations of the relay downlink facility for the new terminal.

As I’ve said before – here in the UK, cooperation between the public and private sectors was key in making this happen. British industry has an established capacity to deliver these key technologies, and in the UK Space Agency we have an organisation that is fleet of foot and capable of seizing the opportunity presented in negotiations to secure the possibility of long-term industrial return for the UK.

And our ESA investment does not just yield industrial returns, but also fantastic scientific ones as well. We are part of the European Space Agency’s Life and Physical Sciences in Space programme which allows Europe to exploit the unique environment of space for fundamental and applied science in health, biology, materials and physics. This unique platform gives us insight into vital knowledge, from the human ageing process to new lightweight materials for jet engines.

Cooperation is the fundamental part of the UK’s strategic direction for space. From the exploration of our solar system to the satellite services that enable our everyday lives – it holds great promise for our country and for our world. I believe we can only achieve that by working together.

And I can only hope that when we look back in 2030, challenged by our own ambitions and inspired by the successes that I am sure we will be enjoying during those intervening years, that we can hand-on-heart say that we have done all that we could to create a good future for the UK space sector that will echo beyond the next 50 years in space. That we were part of shaping that legacy for Britain.

Published 10 October 2014