Bristol and South Glos to get new Space Hub as government spreads tech funding further afield

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The West of England Combined Authority is one of seven regions set to receive government funding to help the region take advantage of the commercial space race.

While Harwell in Oxfordshire has established itself as a space hub in the last 10 years, ministers want to replicate this success in other areas.

Funding is going to seven locations – including the West of England, which covers Bristol, Bath and North-East Somerset and South Gloucestershire, to ensure space is a priority for regional economic growth and to help attract commercial investment from space companies to these areas.

The new space hub consortium, led by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA),  includes the National Composites Centre (NCC), the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS) at Bristol and the Universities of Bristol and Bath, which are engaged in research for the space sector including engineering, astronomy, planetary science, and life and health sciences.

West of England Mayor Tim Bowles said: “It’s fantastic news that once again the Government has recognised our ambition for the West of England and we have secured funding for the region’s space technology businesses. This initial funding, working in partnership with the UK Space Agency, will launch our work to develop new opportunities and create jobs in this exciting sector.

“There is real potential to build on our strengths and assets in the region and unlock the potential of the West of England as a ‘Place for Space’ and secure our long-term economic recovery.”

Industrial champions on the West of England space hub include Thales Alenia Space in Bristol and CGI Group, two major space anchor companies in the region, as well as Harwell Campus-based LENA Space, an innovative space SME developing low-cost space propulsion. The new hub will engage with a wide variety of space stakeholders across multiple sectors and, in particular, explore how SMEs and aerospace companies that have been adversely impacted by Covid-19 can benefit from space opportunities.

The West of England is well positioned with existing strengths to support all areas of the space sector; including manufacturing, space operations, space applications and ancillary services, as well as being home to a wide variety of non-space users that rely on satellite services.

The West of England space hub will contribute strongly to the UK space industry which, in the last decade, has transformed into one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, employing close to 42,000 people and generating an income of nearly £15 billion every year. The region will also play an instrumental role in achieving the national ambition of securing 10% of the global space market by 2030 by leveraging its existing industrial strengths, highly skilled and creative workforce, and world-leading research assets and expertise.

In the last decade, space has transformed into one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors. Trebling in size since 2010, at the last count the UK space industry now employs close to 42,000 people in all corners of the country and generates an income of nearly £15 billion every year.

The government wants to help the space sector thrive beyond the ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Cambridge and Oxford. This approach is reinforced by support for seven potential spaceport locations in areas across Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “The UK’s space sector has shown incredible resilience to the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to play a key role in our recovery – from creating high-quality jobs to finding unique ways to support our NHS.

“This funding will arm local leaders up and down the UK with the tools they need to put their local areas at the front of the commercial space race, while refuelling the tank of the UK economy and helping Britain realise its ambitions as a global space superpower.”

The aerospace industry, which has been dramatically impacted by COVID-19, is an important part of the South West economy. This funding should help the region explore opportunities to use existing industrial strengths to support the space sector.

New money is just one element of an expanded programme of regional activity which the UK Space Agency will be setting out in the coming months, that will be delivered alongside key partners such as the Satellite Applications Catapult, as part of its commitment to help re-balance the economy and support new high-skilled jobs and careers in space across the country.

The six-month projects will see local government, experts and business leaders come together to find out how their area can take advantage of the opportunities of the commercial space age. Each location will use the money to assess their current space capabilities and develop action plans for how they can accelerate the growth of their local space hub.

Dr Colin Baldwin, Head of Local Growth Strategy at the UK Space Agency said: “Space has gone from a nice-to-have sector to a heavyweight industry in the UK over the past decade – trebling in size and now employing over 42,000 people.

“We know that space will help put fuel back in the tank of the economy as it recovers from the pandemic and are determined this growth will be felt in all corners of the country.”

Space hubs will be led by a consortium of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), combined authorities, academic institutions, research groups and businesses, to look at current strengths and set a strategy for how to grow the space sector in their area.

The UK Space Agency will also support Space Leadership Forums in each region, bringing together local government, business leaders and academia into a representative body that can drive forward this work and champion the sector.

the other six regions receiving funding are:

  • Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which will lead a project focused on North-West England
  • City-REDI of the University of Birmingham
  • University of Leeds and Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) working across West Yorkshire
  • Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership, which will cover Surrey and Hampshire
  • Welsh Government, which will carry out activities across the whole of Wales
  • AstroAgency on behalf of the Scottish Space Leadership Council, which will look across all of Scotland