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Report finds UK is missing out on global space market

18 November 2015

UK space industry could be worth £40bn but work is needed to boost skills and relax regulation says the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in a new report.

UK astronaut, Tim Peake (photo courtesy of NASA)

The UK will miss out on the chance to capture £40bn of the global space market and an additional 100,000 jobs if government and industry does not address the problem of restrictive regulations, barriers to investment, the growing skills shortages in engineering and science and fragmented collaboration between stakeholders, according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The report, Seeking Resolution: Growing the UK Small Satellite Industry, focuses on the UK’s emerging small satellite sector which is being hampered due to issues such as outdated and complex launch and operation licence regimes and expensive third-party liability insurance.

The report focuses on Earth Observation (EO), one of the fastest growing areas of small satellite use. EO offers the ability to gather vast amounts of data about the planet’s physical, chemical and biological systems and has a multitude of applications in a variety of sectors. These EO satellites can monitor urban growth, land-use change, provide rapid casualty estimates after natural or human disasters and could even enable people to look at the origin of the fish they buy in the supermarket.

“Small Satellites are not only transforming sectors such as agriculture, conservation, energy production and disaster relief, but also have the potential to be a huge business opportunity for the UK," says Dr Helen Meese, Head of Engineering in Society at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

“The UK has the potential to build a £40 billion space industry by 2030, supporting an extra 100,000 jobs, but work needs to be done to simplify regulation and boost the number of people entering the space industry or we risk losing business overseas. Funding is currently spread too thinly across academic institutions so more needs to be done by the Research Councils to boost investment in innovative satellite research.

“The Institution is also calling for the UK Space Agency to simplify its licensing regime to enable more SMEs to enter the market and to end expensive third-party liability. There is also much more that needs to be done by Government to boost STEM careers and increase the number of undergraduates, graduates and professional engineers taking up jobs in UK space industry. In order to enable the sector to flourish, Government also needs to look to increase the amount of money made available to SMEs through the Satellite Finance Network from £20 million to £70 million over the next five years.”

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ report calls for:
- The UK Space Agency to better support SMEs by setting up a small satellite advisory team, simplifying the licensing regime & scrapping the third-party liability.
- The Satellite Applications Catapult to boost the number of people taking placements in the space industry to 1,000 a year over the next five years, and to increase the money available to SMEs from £20m to £70m over the next five years and sustain this level until 2030.
Ofcom to work with the UK Spectrum Policy Forum to address Spectrum licencing for all small satellite operators.
- Research councils to work with universities to create a long-term strategy to attract young people into the space sector and develop a strategy for space technology research.

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