It’s Time For Launch, is Government ready?

Lichelle Wolmarans

16 September 2019

Last week PUBLIC released Time For Launch, our latest space report, in partnership with the Satellite Applications Catapult. Here, we discuss more about the work we’ve done for the report and how governments can take advantage of the space and satellites opportunity.

The space industry has traditionally been the preserve of national governments and their space agencies. However, UK-based startups have been democratising access to space through building smaller satellites (Alba Orbital), creating innovative launch processes which make space launch cheaper and more accessible (Skyrora and Orbex), and offering end-to-end satellite launch services (Open Cosmos). As a result of this rapid innovation within the commercial space sector, the global space market is predicted to grow to £400b by 2030 and US$1 trillion by 2040

The UK hopes to capture 10% of this expanding global market, with ambitions to grow to £40b per annum over the next 10 years. However, for Government to reach this target in light of Brexit it will have to take active steps now to secure the future of the UK space industry. PUBLIC’s new report Time For Launch outlines the measures Government needs to take to grow the industry to hit its targets. 

First and foremost, it is imperative that the UK develops a framework for working together with European space bodies, to secure access to the data, technology, and talent necessary to sustain the UK space industry. The UK is the fourth largest recipient of funding from the European Space Agency (ESA), having received approximately €369m from ESA in 2019. Space startups, who are a large source of innovation in the sector, are particularly reliant on funding and support from the ESA Business Applications Programme. Groundbreaking UK startups who have benefitted from ESA support include Hummingbird Technologies, Energeo, and Vidrona. Although the UK’s membership in ESA is independent of EU membership, ensuring access to ESA funds in the future will be vital to maintaining growth in the sector. 

In addition to maintain access to European funding streams, both governmental and non-governmental space bodies should consider how to stimulate greater venture activity in the commercial space sector. A reoccuring theme arising in the interviews PUBLIC conducted with 50 space startups is a shortage of venture funding. As startups play a large role in driving the commercial sector forward, if they are starved for funding the industry will ultimately lose an important source of technological and business innovation. Providing startups with more systematic opportunities and programmes to pitch their products and services to investors, such as the UK Space Tech Angels, will greatly contribute to solving this problem. 

Government also needs to consider how its position as a large potential buyer of space products and services will propel the industry forward. As our report examines in detail, there are opportunities to utilise space and satellites in a broad range of public services. From policing and emergency services, to health care, energy, transport, and the environment, space solutions offer efficiency gains across the public sector. To name a few examples:

  • SiHealth uses Earth Observation data from satellites to help individuals monitor their UV exposure and associated health risks. 
  • Earth-i identifies water pipe leakages by monitoring vegetation growth using Earth Observation, and identifying abnormalities which could indicate pipe leakage. 
  • SiruisInsights.AI produces a ‘pattern of life’ for ships using satellite sensors, geospatial data, and artificial intelligence, enabling it to evaluate the performance of vessels along a route and detect unusual changes in environment.

If Government takes the necessary steps to ensure widespread adoption of space solutions in the public sector, it will be a bedrock of support for the industry by providing space businesses with long term contracts and guaranteed revenue streams. That being said, we will never see widespread adoption of space solutions if civil servants and decision makers are not aware of the opportunities and benefits on offer. This is one of the fundamental motivations of PUBLIC’s report, to alert those who are in a position to implement change in the public sector, to the cost-effective solutions space has to offer. 

Chris Skidmore’s attendance at the report launch is an indication of the Department for Health and Social Care’s commitment to strategically using space technologies to meet the Department’s goals and aims. We encourage others to follow his lead, and learn more about using space to solve public sector challenges. The UK space sector is ready for launch, is Government ready to support it?

Read the full report here.



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