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June 21, 2017

Queen’s Speech: Out of this world plans for UK space industry

The space industry has been growing at an annual rate of 8% over the last 10 years - outperforming the UK economy as a whole.

By Ellie Burns

Brexit, data protection and electric vehicles will command the majority of headlines following the Queen’s Speech, delivered today to Parliament. However, it is what the Queen said about the space industry which will reassure many that there remains a focus for the UK to be at the forefront of innovation among all the Brexit talk.

In the speech delivered by Her Majesty the Queen to both houses of Parliament, a government plan to secure growth in the UK’s £13.7bn space industry was revealed. The idea behind the new bill being proposed is to make the UK a more attractive destination for commercial space. This will include, excitingly, potential launches from British soil.

Currently, rockets and other launch systems developed elsewhere are not able to operate out of the UK. The Bill however hopes to change this by “enabling [scientists] to launch from UK soil]”.  The legislation, according to the government, would “offer the UK’s world-leading small satellite companies new options for low-cost, reliable access to space”.

However, many may be quick to state that these plans are a little ‘out-of-this-world’, excuse the pun, but in reality the legislation would bring many benefits extending past the UK having a greater share in the space economy.

“Critics may prefer the UK Government to look closer to home, but investments in space quickly return commercial applications,”  said Neil Fraser, Head of Space and Comms at ViaSat

“By looking to the stars, we bring innovation, employment and business growth back to the UK economy. Indeed, space is one of the eight great technologies for UK. It is a dynamic, fast growing sector which employs some of the country’s top talent, as well as contributing to economic growth and other important national needs, such as Earth observation and satellite communications.”

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If the plans materialise, the Bill could help increase the UK share of the global space economy to 10% by 2030. Currently the UK only boasts a meagre 6.5% share in the space market.

Currently, the UK is a member of the European Space Agency, which is largely funded by the EU. However, despite Brexit and the UK government’s plans to grab a share of the space economy via British soil, Mr Fraser argues the ESA will be key in the government achieving its ambitious targets.

“The UK is one of the largest contributors to the European Space Agency, which will be key towards meeting the objectives outlined in the Queen’s speech. To compete on a global scale, it takes a larger investment than any single European country has an appetite. With the combined investments from major European powers, ESA has the resources to do projects on a global scale. This drives further innovation and employment back into the British economy. Not to mention national heroes like Tim Peake.”

There are also benefits to what the launch technology can do when it leaves British Soil and is orbiting above us in space. For example, ViaSat launched the world’s highest capacity communications satellite earlier this month from French Guyana – providing high speed broadband from LA to Istanbul. Broadband is a key technology in enabling the digital future – in fact, broadband is a pivotal in enabling enterprise and growth, both of which are fundamental to the economy.

“Whilst the UK has made progress in fibre and terrestrial roll out to pass more homes over recent years, fibre and 4G/5G cannot affordable meet all the needs of the UK’s population at home or when mobile.  Satellite broadband has a role to play in meeting these needs and it is hoped the Government can do more to encourage a hybrid technology and business approach to ensuring the Universal Service Obligation (USO) is both realistic, has growth for the future and can be delivered,” said Mr Fraser.


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