Does the UK’s National Space Strategy Offer a New Hope?

The government wants to grow its influence in the final frontier, so we look at the implications of its plan and the priority technologies.

The UK has revealed its National Space Strategy this week in an attempt to grow its influence in the final frontier.

The 10-point plan includes utilising cutting-edge space technology to observe and fight climate change, “deliver the UK Defence Space Portfolio”, and hosting the first small satellite launch in Europe by 2022.

Along with these goals, there are four phases for the stratagem: Countdown, Ignition, Thrust and Orbit with the Orbit phase being targeted for 2030 and beyond.

According to the 42-page policy paper published by the government, it plans to “implement an integrated approach to space activities to accelerate progress, innovation, and growth”.

The strategy will be coordinated largely by the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, but a total of 10 government organisations will be involved, all told.

The government sees space as a vital part of the UK’s economy. For example, it mentions satellites and financial transactions as areas of interest.

The stats in the policy paper show that the UK space sector is growing faster than the rest of the UK economy. The industry is worth over £16.4 billion per year, employs over 45,000 people and satellites underpin £360 billion per year of wider economic activity.

It’s worth noting that in 2020 the government took a $500 million (£366 million) equity share in OneWeb, a low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications company. By 2022 OneWeb will have over 600 satellites in orbit providing “global reach and global broadband connectivity”.

As eWeek UK reported last month, OneWeb secured $300 million (£216.7 million) in funding to provide a powerful push to its ambitions in the realm of broadband services.

In the foreword to the paper, Boris Johnson stated his hopes that the plan will see “Global Britain becoming Galactic Britain”.

This cosmic branding of national policy calls to mind the bright-eyed futurism of the early-mid 20th century, when slapping the word “space” onto something automatically made it sound like the greatest thing ever to children ages 5-13.

What’s Actually In the Policy?

The Space Strategy’s 10-point plan includes a number of goals and initiatives, which could offer opportunities for the B2B tech sector in the UK.

First, there is the proposed commercial small satellite launch to take place next year.

Proposed spaceports are located in the Shetland Islands, Sutherland, Argyll, Prestwick and Outer Hebrides; Snowdonia; and Cornwall. The establishment of these spaceports will allow the UK to achieve “orbital launch capability”.

Another enterprise outlined is the expansion of the nation’s Skynet 6 programme and satellite communications capabilities. This is one of the only points in the stratagem where the government outlines what actions they will take to accomplish this goal, namely investing £5 billion into the military satellite communications programme.

On top of communications satellites, the UK intends to develop a constellation of small ISR satellites with supporting architectures and invest in both Earth observation data infrastructure and hardware development capability.

The government will attempt to fight climate change with space technology. It notes that the UK “will not reach its goal of net zero emissions by 2050 without a clear understanding of how climate change is impacting the Earth, to guide crucial decision-making and investments”.

The area of climate change has attracted a great deal of interest from tech startups and there could be more opportunities for firms on the back of this strategy.

For instance, eWeek UK has reported on flood modelling business Fathom getting investment from Moody’s; and Climate X (London) and Looper (Edinburgh) in ‘10 Tech Startups to Watch in 2021’.

Innovation is a word used often. However, the government says its UK Innovation Strategy identifies the priority technologies that will help the space sector.

These priorities include robotics and smart machines, AI, digital and advanced computing. It is very early days as the plan has just been released, and there are scant details, but perhaps tech companies working in those fields can find new forms of prosperity. That remains to be seen.

Command and Conquer?

While the space plan sounds very nice, and the government does a good job of selling it in the paper, the shadow of Brexit looms large over any economic policy the UK sets forth.

Critics could point to a fuel crisis caused by Brexit removing thousands of EU drivers from the available workforce or the lack of a new US trade deal.

Downing Street is attempting to turn the people’s eyes to the stars but there will be detractors who look at things on the ground.

Some people will worry that potential investors and businesses who might be interested in some of the aspects of the plan will be put off by Brexit issues.

Regardless of this strategy’s success, however, more and more nations are also looking to the stars for their next expansion, as are major business figures like Jeff Bezos and the now-single Elon Musk with their SpaceX and Blue Origin companies.

Like the daring interstellar heroes of old radio serials like Flash Gordon, humanity is reaching further and further beyond Earth, and with that reach inevitably comes opportunity for investment and gains.

Unfortunately for Tim Curry (in the video game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3), space may no longer be the one place that hasn’t been corrupted by capitalism.

Zephin Livingston
Zephin Livingston
Zephin Livingston is a content writer for eWeek, eWeek UK, IT Business Edge, and SoftwarePundit with years of experience in multiple fields including cybersecurity, tech, cultural criticism, and media literacy. They're currently based out of Seattle.
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