Britain’s new space strategy envisions a return to space launch activities and rocket launches from its territory in 2022-2023. The United Kingdom has never before launched from its own territory, using the southern coast of Australia for that purpose. Half a century ago, it was from there that the Black Arrow rocket put into orbit the first British satellite Prospero. The idea of using its own coastline for launch activities came a few years ago. And in the UK space strategy planned out until 2030, it is talked about as a matter of fact.
Today, the UK has a strong presence in the space equipment segment. It is a pioneer in the manufacture of small satellite platforms and spacecraft, and a leader in the production of satellite communications antennas and ground equipment. And high resolution satellite imagery obtained from this spacecraft is of great value for other businesses and industries in the region. But of course, the space industry in the UK faces some challenges while trying to develop. Let’s discuss what they are and what awaits in the future.
UK’s Access to Space Services
Satellites offer a variety of services, the main ones being navigation, communications, weather forecasting, and financial operations. All of those are essential for the effective and seamless functioning of such industries as agriculture, energy, maritime, and urban development. Therefore, resilient and secure access to such satellite services as Earth observation, communications, and navigation is essential.
For instance, as communication satellites are in charge of providing television, internet, radio, telephone, and other services, the satellite telecommunications sector occupies the largest share in the UK space sector, accounting for almost half of the space industry’s income ank significantly contributing to the economy.
The Role of Satellite Imagery
Speaking of Earth observation services, high resolution Earth images are an unmatched source of data on the UK’s cities, transportation networks, energy infrastructure, and much more.
With the constant development of AI, which enables advanced imagery analysis for different purposes, there are more and more possibilities open for using satellite pictures. For instance, the British Environment Agency is leveraging the power of satellite imagery analytics for tackling the issues of plastic pollution near the coastline, which is a great contribution to environment preservation. There is also a growing demand for high quality satellite images coming from governments and the utility sector. Therefore, the need for fast and easy access to such pictures will only grow.
The British government has announced the funding commitment to the UK’s space sector in the amount of £1.84bn. Part of these funds will be offered to smaller firms involved in developing technology that reduces the dependence of the UK on countries outside of Europe in terms of electronic parts, such as space solar power.
Such funds will not only support the already growing UK space and commercial satellite sector but will also contribute in creating new jobs. According to the government, the UK’s space industry is an employer of approximately 50,000 jobs and generates almost £17bn annually.
The UK Space Sector Now
Modern UK governments recognize the importance of defense and environment sectors, both of which heavily rely on satellite data, including high res satellite images. It has led to government funding decisions and development of regulations aimed at the support and growth of space activities. Moreover, the UK Space Agency is currently supporting the growth of regional clusters, increasing the number and types of companies involved in the space economy, from upstream to downstream applications.
The Role Of R&D Support For The UK Space Sector
Space economy is a competitive environment on a global scale, which means the development of ideas, methods, and technologies is essential to stay on track and gain a sufficient share of projected growth. The UK is not an exception, and also needs to keep offering a range of space technologies to the world. Apart from that, it’s critical to support programmes that make sure these ideas pass the stages from development to implementation as fast as possible.
For this decade, strategic plans include the development of navigation services and applications, and the provision of remote sensing data services. There are currently seven locations within the UK under consideration for space or suborbital launches. Most of them are located in the north — in Scotland or on the west coast of Wales. Whereas satellite manufacturers are mostly based in England. Virgin Orbit is set to launch from Cornwall Spaceport in Wales for the first time in the nearest future. It was previously part of Richard Branson’s group, but has recently declared its independence. Virgin Orbit, led by former Boeing vice president Dan Hart, uses the Boeing-747 to launch cubicles into orbit. On June 30, 2021, the company managed to deliver satellites to low orbit for the first time.