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Reimagining Space: An Introduction to Space Clusters

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In this article, we’re discussing the growing network of space clusters across the country that are enabling a new, more connected and more collaborative era in the development of the UK space sector.

Space is a diverse sector. It stretches from high value manufacturing all the way through to the end use of products and includes all sorts of space enabled solutions and products. However, the space sector in the UK is geographically skewed with a heavy concentration along the Southeast of England, and across Scotland’s central belt.

For the space sector to thrive, we need to create high value, highly productive jobs across the country. We need to engage with all parts of the UK and grow regional and local programmes of space clusters and space hubs. We need to work with local communities to understand what opportunities there are, which companies in their region could benefit from the space sector and bring academics and businesses closer together to deliver new ideas, products, and solutions and services.

But that community needs to be connected, it needs to be working with one another. We need to be making sure localities know who’s good at what and how we can join up the space sector across the UK to really show the UKs place in the space sector across the world.

The National Space strategy focuses on levelling up the space sector and connecting up the Southern and Scottish space sectors up with the rest of the UK. Seeing space as part of the UK Government’s growth plans means that we can start to align local investment alongside the national ambition. Once you have a national ambition, it’s easier to talk about delivering against some of the opportunities in your region.

THE CHALLENGE

There are huge challenges ahead. But huge opportunities are being realised, too.

Local strategies are being set up now to think about how we can bring businesses that may not be in the space sector, closer to the space sector and start to form part of the supply chain.

We need to be talking to the non-space sectors – the health industry, Agri-tech, and offshore renewable sectors, for example – about the potential benefits that space can bring. But it is a slow process. We need to engage with businesses, showcase the data and tech that space can offer, show the improvements, the cost savings, the technological advancements that could be brought into that business. Only then can we start to prototype pilot projects, to demonstrate the use of space technology for the businesses within that sector. And after that, uptake increases.

Areas outside of London suffer from brain-drain as top-talent move to areas with higher wages. But with vibrant space clusters across the UK, where people can stay within their region if that’s their preferred choice, and use their skills, their training, or learn on the job, individuals can see a career path for them in space, close to home. It is a case of creating those opportunities locally for businesses to get hold of talented people to find the right facilities and infrastructure.

Businesses also need to find the right skills and the investment they need locally to be able to attract investment from overseas into the region as well. From a strategic perspective, we want the UK to become an attractive place for people to set up and start a business or indeed invest in the UK and start to grow their business here because we have the right skills, the technology, the spaceports the launch capability, the building of satellites, everything is here. If we can showcase this connected UK space ecosystem to the rest of the world, then we’ll be in a good place to attract that investment and see the economy grow.

NOW TO THE FUTURE

Traditionally, space was a preserve of governments; you had to be a trillionaire (i.e. a country) to afford access. Now, it’s private industry. In July 2022, Virgin Orbit will be the first operator to launch from Cornwall’s space port.

As a sector, we need to be able to speak with one voice about what we have to offer and which problems we can solve. In turn, we this will help to cluster activity. There are lots of opportunities where some parts of the UK have gaps that other can meet.

The timing at a macroeconomic level is right. The National Space Strategy’s 10-point plan allows businesses to see which parts they’re contributing to. It helps to mobilise industry to ensure the UK captures 10% of the global space market by 2030.

Investment is being energised too, by the likes of Seraphim and others from the private sector, as well as the people that are well documented in the media as individuals. And we’re now starting to see non-space investment coming into space. Sometimes we assume it’s all about people that are familiar with what space can offer. The reality is, it’s about transport, it’s about opportunities in healthcare, in Agri-tech. The investment is beginning to flow. Space is an enabler for other industrial areas that we’re interested in.

We need to change our perception of what it means to work in the space sector so that space is no longer seen as just a place to go; it is an extension of life on Earth and something which can involve so many other industries to improve life on Earth.

Whether that’s monitoring humanitarian crises, looking at the sustainability of our food supply, delivering remote healthcare services, or monitoring fishing ports around the UK, there are so many applications for space that are about helping people on the ground, and improving lives and changing lives.

How can we bring together the different regions and the different clusters and hubs across the UK? How do we make sure that we’re really representing and capturing all the exciting things going on throughout the value chain? These are the questions that we will be answering in the years to come.

This article is a summary of discussions on our In-Orbit Podcast Series.