It’s up, up and away for UK space sector

Space photo

The Harwell Space Cluster, Europe’s most concentrated group of space organisations, has released its 10-year growth strategy. Already recognised internationally as the UK Space Gateway, the strategy supports the cluster’s ambition to become the most compelling global gateway to the space sector, making it an even more powerful engine of growth, innovation and investment for the whole of the UK. The strategy supports the cluster’s ambition to reach 200 organisations collectively employing 5,000 people by 2030.

The news comes just a day after four UK-based companies announce that they are teaming up to combine their complementary skills and expertise to enhance further the country’s space industry capabilities to deliver prosperity and security.

Athena is the UK’s new national team in space, formed by Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK. The four companies are world leaders in providing technology and services across defence, space, communications and information technology to governments, businesses and other organisations.

Athena aims to seize development opportunities that new space technologies will offer, driving economic growth for the UK and diversification across the British space sector.

Small companies are also seeing investment success in their space innovations. Bristol-based Space Forge has secured £600,000 to build a reusable manufacturing satellite. The funding has come from the Development Bank of Wales, alongside Bristol Private Equity Club and Innovate UK.

Space Forge’s vision is to harness the power of Space by manufacturing high-performance products impossible to produce on Earth, which work to decrease energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. The permanent microgravity only found in space enables billions of new alloys to be made that were previously out of reach for humanity. By bringing them back to Earth these alloys could revolutionise renewable energy, transport and computing industries.

Responding to the Space Forge investment, Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at UKSA said: “With support networks, funding opportunities and business advice available across the country, the UK space sector is a great place for start-ups like Space Forge to grow and create high-skilled jobs.

“This new investment will help Space Forge develop innovative new space technologies to improve manufacturing processes here on Earth. It is another fantastic example of the UK’s thriving commercial space sector, which employs 42,000 people and generates £14.8bn for the economy.”

Harwell’s strategy builds on the cluster’s success over the last 10 years, which has seen it grow to 105 organisations, and cemented its role as a platform for UK space companies and for international companies looking to get a foothold in the UK space market.

Magali Vaissiere, European Space Agency, Head of ECSAT Centre and Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, said: “ESA is proud to support the Harwell Space Cluster’s ten-year strategy. As the world puts in place plans to make an economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, space has a proven track record of promoting innovation and competitiveness to create new services and products that generate new jobs and boost prosperity.”

Professor Chris Mutlow, Director of STFC RAL Space,part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the space hub for UK Research and Innovation​, said: “We’ve watched the Harwell Space Cluster grow around us. We stand ready to support as it sets out to deliver this ambitious strategy. Our expanding facilities, expert workforce and ability to tackle complex challenges help make Harwell the perfect place for our global partners to work with the UK space sector, and for UK organisations to springboard out into the world.”

Colin Baldwin, Head of Local Growth Strategy, UK Space Agency, said: “This strategy builds on Harwell’s global reputation, world-class facilities and diverse innovation environment to ensure the UK’s vibrant space sector acts as an engine of growth for the whole country.

“We are working closely with partners on the Campus and across the UK as we develop a comprehensive national space strategy that will make the UK the best place to start, locate or grow a space business.”

“We are working closely with partners on the Campus and across the UK as we develop a comprehensive national space strategy that will make the UK the best place to start, locate or grow a space business.”

Multi- and inter-disciplinary collaboration will continue to be nurtured as part of the strategy to support shared learning and problem solving. Recently, Astroscale, a company focused
on developing technology and services to remove space debris and extending the orbital life of space technology, has entered a collaboration with Northumbria University to explore decommissioning practices in the oil and nuclear sectors to bring insights to the satellite industry and encourage responsible behaviour in space, and improving space environmental protection.

Enhancing the ecosystem to support start-ups is a vital component of the cluster strategy. The STFC managed European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom (ESA BIC UK) provides funding, business advice, access to space expertise and laboratories to start-ups wanting to break into the space sector. One company benefitting from funding and support is Lanterne which has developed an application that facilitates social distancing using space enabled data. Despite the current challenging markets, two ESA BIC UK alumni incubated at Harwell, Flox (formerly Thrive MV) and Orbital Witness have recently raised equity capital. In total 85 companies have been incubated by the ESA BIC UK and they have collectively raised over £73m.

Providing room for companies to grow is part of the overall Harwell Campus strategy which in turn supports the growth of the Harwell Space Cluster. In the last six months, new companies seeking the competitive advantage that Harwell provides include hiSky, Borwell, Raytheon and B2B Space. Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communications, established a presence at Harwell at the end of 2019.

The Space Cluster Strategy can be found here: content/uploads/Harwell-Space-Cluster-Strategy-2020-web.pdf