The UK space industry has experienced unprecedented growth in the past decade. We now have satellite constellations, providing unlimited connectivity to even the farthest-reaching regions of Earth. Space tech allows for last-minute, accurate prediction of weather patterns that help farmers produce higher quality crops. Researchers can use satellite imaging and data to develop functional models of their theories. Truly, it is the golden age of space exploration with a space economy valued at £270 billion in 2019, with an estimated growth of £490 billion by 2030. To nobody’s surprise, the UK government is pushing the UK National Space Strategy to get some of that profit.
UK Gov Publish new National Space Strategy to Make the UK a Space Superpower
It surprised nobody when the UK government unveiled their grand plan to conquer space – the UK National Space Strategy. It’s no secret that the UK government has been trying to stimulate its slightly stagnant space economy with plans of spaceports and a bustling satellite manufacturing field. However, the government’s plans have always seemed half-assed and not really optimal for the massive goals it’s been undertaking.
The UK National Space Strategy aims to correct this. The document consists of a step-by-step plan that the UK government hopes to implement within the current decade. Similar to other documents published by the UK government, it features plans to expand the space sector through several spaceports, a satellite manufacturing facility that will build small and nanosatellites in-house, and the ability for the UK to launch both satellites and rockets.
The UK National Space Strategy document mentions five distinct goals that the government will try to achieve within the present decade:
- Develop space economy
- Promote Global Britain’s values
- Inspire the nation by leading scientific discovery
- Protect national interests in space
- Deliver space tech for UK citizens and the world
What can be read between the lines is that the UK government hopes to revolutionise its own British identity. The government wants the country to transcend and become ‘Galactic Britain.’ Whether that means that the country will take a more active role in the formation of the ‘colonise space’ movement or simply take a bigger part in the construction and launching of spacecraft is yet to be determined.
The UK National Space Strategy funding figures are too vague
While the document goes into reasonably a lot of detail about what the government ‘wants’ to achieve, there are certain omissions of reality that we need to mention. Currently, the UK government doesn’t have enough big players in the global space economy to support these grand plans. Except for OneWeb, Skyrora, or Alba Orbital, there aren’t any large UK based space startups that can help lift off the UK space economy into the stars, as hoped.
Many experts have expressed concern over the vagueness of the document, stating that the UK government is simply repeating what it wants to do without saying what it will do.
Juliana Suess, the Research Analyst for RUSI, writes that the assessment of UK space capabilities is correct, but the actual plan needs to be more detailed.
The RA for RUSI goes on to explain that the document doesn’t mention any accurate funding numbers that will go towards expanding the UK space sector. This is a problem that the government has had to deal with in the past – the space sector budget set aside to support space tech startups is not enough to go around to everyone. Based on research, the UK currently generates an estimated income of £14.8 billion per year from its space endeavours. However, compared to the global space economy, which is well over £300 billion per annum, there is a lot of wiggle room.
Andrew Stanniland, CEO of Thales Alenia Space UK, believes the UK space industry is already lagging behind. “If we don’t outpace them, we’ll never catch up.”
While that statement is true, there also has to be a goal in mind. One of the key steps that the UK government mentions in the UK National Space Strategy is the investment of over 5 billion into the UK space sector in the next ten years. However, there is no mention of when that will happen or which company the money will go to. It’s just a number thrown into the wind as an incentive.
Scotland to become a global leader in space
The Scottish government published its own strategy for establishing a space economy stronghold, chiefly named the Scottish Space Strategy. The document is worded very similarly to the UK National Space Strategy, with some key differences. The Scottish strategy mentions more actual numbers on average than the UK strategy.
The Scottish Space Strategy document lists five goals that the government will work towards achieving by 2030:
- Annually contributing £4bn to the Scottish economy.
- Increasing the workforce by five times the current level.
- Becoming an international hub for commercial space tech developments.
- Managing launch operations, both orbital and suborbital.
- Making sure the space is accessible to all and ensuring more active workforce participation in the industry.
In many ways, the Scottish Space Strategy touches on similar topics as the UK National Space Strategy. Perhaps it’s too similar to a fault. The same red flags appear all over the place – lack of concrete funding plans. The document states that there will be future investments into the space sector, but there are no key dates of when that money will be invested or even to whom they will be given. Perhaps there will be an elaboration in the future, but the Scottish Strategy falls flat for now.
Britain’s launch into the space race looks shaky
This document isn’t the first attempt the UK government has made to revolutionise its space industry. However, every time they issue a public statement, they fail at very important key elements:
- Every governmental document is too vague;
- There is no mention of actual funding numbers;
- Which companies will help ‘revolutionise’ the UK space sector?
The UK space sector suffers from a devastating lack of domestic funding. Over 80% of all funding comes from foreign investors, such as NASA. However, the UK National Space Strategy speaks about breaking away from pre-existing financial obligations and co-operations from 3rd party investors (NASA). The UK government wants to achieve this Galactic Britain on its own merits, but with the lack of domestic interest in the space sector, that seems unlikely.
Whether the UK and Scotland can deliver on their promise of a revolution in the space sector is yet to be seen. Both documents say they want to achieve a lot but don’t give enough information as to how they will achieve that. If the government can give specific numbers and gather enough financial support, there is a big chance that together UK and Scotland could become powerful players in the race for space. For now, the UK National Space Strategy is just a paper with empty promises.