Building a Vibrant Space Eco-System in the UK

Nafeesa Dajda
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Establishing and developing a vibrant UK Space eco-system has been a primary focus of the Satellite Applications Catapult since its inception in 2013. After setting up our headquarters in Harwell, Oxfordshire, we wanted to uncover and engage with as many Space organisations across the UK as possible. We knew these stakeholders were contributing to the burgeoning Space economy and wanted to build a sense of community around them whilst helping to develop new supply chains and engage with potential customers of satellite data and Space technology.

To realise our ambition, we created five regional Centres of Excellence in Satellite Applications in partnership with UK Space Agency who supported our vision for growing space communities and provided vital funding to scale the programme.

These Centres were located in the North-East, South-Coast, South-West and East Midlands regions of England, alongside a Scotland Centre of Excellence. Each Centre was created with a view to building links between industry, academia, end-users and market opportunities to enable collaborative projects to develop alongside concepts for new products and services.

Over the lifetime of the Centres of Excellence in Satellite Applications programme, it has leveraged an additional £15 million of private and public investment into the local economies to support Space initiatives and projects, engaging over 2,000 businesses, and supporting more than 300 local space events.  Each Centre has contributed to a wide variety of local and national projects, brokering collaborations between Space and science-related activities and local industries, acting as facilitators for the creation of cross-sector partnerships and bids, and fostering numerous new satellite related groups.  Each Centre has been driven by a dedicated Centre Manager who has worked to develop their own local Space advisory group, engaging stakeholders from across the community and shaping the direction and focus of space activity.  It is this locally led approach that has been vital to the evolution of the Centres of Excellence.

The journey of each Centre has been very different, reflecting the economic and political ambitions for the Space sector in each locality, and the Catapult has flexed and adapted its approach alongside each Centre as they have matured, evolved and scaled beyond the seed investment we provided.  In the East Midlands, our Centre of Excellence helped to consolidate Space activity in the region driven by the University of Leicester, home now to the hugely successful Leicester Space Park. In Scotland, a Space Council is now in place delivering against the Scottish Space Strategy. Our South-Coast Centre of Excellence has grown its regional boundaries creating a strong network of businesses and academia across Hampshire and Surrey, with a real focus on attracting overseas investment in region. In the North-East of England, our Centre has helped to drive the growth of Space businesses and investment across the region with an ambition to develop a physical home, the North-East Space Hub, for Space organisations.  Our South-West Centre kick started Space community building activities across Devon and Cornwall, and over time we have seen the emergence of the Cornwall Space Cluster, with a physical home for innovation in Cornwall at the Spaceport in Newquay.

These varying but positive outcomes proved our initial ambitions to be correct; that there is no one size fits all approach to regional growth and that understanding local context, people, challenges and opportunities is vital, as is engaging the right local teams to drive the activity forward.  The success of the Centres and their subsequent evolution into vibrant, locally driven Space clusters has been down to the really incredible people involved, namely our Centre Managers, and their supporting advisory groups and teams, alongside our own Regional Centres Advisory Board, who shared our vision, provided us with advice and guidance and have helped us to develop a strong future ambition for Space clusters in the UK. Significantly, our efforts have led the way for a further £6.5 million of UK Space Agency funding, announced in 2023 and aimed at boosting the Space sector across the UK.

Our role as a Catapult has been and will continue to be one of corralling all this brilliant activity, creating connections between academia and business, reinforcing mechanisms for regular communication between each locality and providing the right business support services and access to technical experts. We will continue to host forums and biannual events for sharing best practice and for seeking advice and learning from one another, underpinned by our virtual community platform, and wider Space Enterprise Community. Next steps for the Catapult’s National Capabilities and Cluster team vision to support a thriving and connected Space eco-system is to continue working with our partners to link up more Space communities across the UK, creating super clusters, either through physical adjacency or through complementary capability offerings across the UK.

Thank you to all those who have supported us and been involved on the journey so far.

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