The UK’s role in the space sector

When it comes to thoughts of the international space race, the UK may not immediately come to mind; and with the celestial spotlight being shone on much bigger countries, you may be surprised to learn there are various projects underway in the UK space sector.

From plans for satellite launches and new space hubs to a much wider investment in space-based solar activity, the UK is steadily, but surely, finding impressive ways of contributing to the sector. In fact, the UK has recently greenlit a £1milion fund for several UK space projects in international innovation. 

Alongside this, over the past two decades, the UK space sector has “tripled in size and today, underpins £300bn or 15% of activity across the economy.” Not bad for a quiet contender. 

Read on to find out more interesting ways in which the UK is lighting up the space sector.

UK EMCCD camera technology for space applications

One of the most innovative projects forming part of the £1 million fund for several projects in international innovation, and receiving £279,000 as part of the fund, is the Open University. As part of the opportunity, they will use the funding to build upon their previous involvement in the design of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope for the Centre for Electronic Imaging.

“Renowned for planetary exploration, electronic imaging, lunar science and astronomy”, The Open University, has a vested interest in the continued innovation in the UK space sector. The overall purpose of the project is to highlight “the potential for enhanced performance with this new UK technology as a flagship for space applications.”

InRange Launch Vehicle Telemetry Service, Inmarsat

Another of the projects in receipt of the £1 million Government boost is Inmarsat, a British satellite operator focused on guiding rocket launches. 

Awarded a whopping £258,000 National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP) contract, by the UK Space Agency to help develop the network, Inmarsat “will use its existing global L-band geostationary satellite communications network to develop an in-orbit data relay solution.”

The concept, named ‘InRange’, will enable launch vehicles to reduce launch providers’ dependency on traditional, expensive, ground-based technology.”

European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Initiative

Looking to nurture “industrial entrepreneurship” while stimulating “growth and competitiveness within the privately led and funded space sector in Europe” is the ESA Boost! Initiative.

Two Scottish based companies, Orbex and Skyrora will be in receipt of £8.5 million worth of funding to “bring pioneering launch technologies to market”. The aim is to help bring the UK to the global forefront of the commercial small satellite launch market.

Let’s start with Orbex, a “low-cost orbital launch services company, serving the needs of the small satellite industry”. Granted £6 million which is the largest Boost! Award to date to support the ongoing development of their Prime launch vehicle, they are looking to launch small satellites into orbit from 2023 an exciting prospect.

Heading further South sits Edinburgh based rocket company, Skyrora. Allocated £2.5 million to develop and finalise their pioneering Skyrora XL launch vehicle, created to take small satellites into orbit. Not only will the funding help contribute towards an extra 170 jobs at the company but it will help with the creation of jobs across the entirety of the UK space sector. 

Science Minister Amanda Solloway says, “the UK’s space industry is thriving and we have bold ambitions to be Europe’s leading destination for small satellite launches, developing world-class commercial spaceflight capability up and down the country.”

As it stands, the UK space sector not only employs nearly 42,000 people, it also generates an income of £15 billion a year.

And with plans to “capture 10% of the global space market by 2030” alongside the chance for UK business to seek growth by way of a multitude of investment opportunities ahead of their release into the global community, the international role of the UK space sector seems intent on gathering some pretty impressive speed.