Thoughts on the UK Space Growth Action Plan

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By Stuart Martin, CEO, Satellite Applications Catapult

Thursday 14th November represented another important milestone in the continuing success of the UK space sector, with the publishing of the Space Innovation Growth Strategy (IGS) 2014-2030 – subtitled the Space Growth Action Plan (GAP).  This report builds on the original IGS publication from 2010, which first set out the opportunity and ambition to establish an industry capturing 10% of the world space market and creating 100,000 new jobs by 2030.

The new report reaffirms commitment to that ambition, and highlights the major achievements of the past three years that have set us off along the right path.  These include the creation of the UK Space Agency, the major step change in our relationship with the European Space Agency and, of course, the establishment of the Satellite Applications Catapult here at Harwell. 

But most importantly, the Space GAP is constructed on a deeper analysis of the opportunity, and shines a light on the challenges ahead of us.  It starts to map out the detailed activities we need to get underway, and identifies a new interim goal of an 8% share of the global market by 2020 (equivalent to an estimated industry size of £19Bn), that will help us manage our progress.  This all represents a new way of working, behind which we all need to unite to succeed.

In my opinion, the most important aspects of the report that we need to highlight and act on now are the following:

Exports.  The need for UK space-sector exports to grow from £2Bn/year to £25Bn/year (or from 22% of the sector now to 60% in 2030) is huge, and will require a transformation in the way sector operates.  It will require new models for exports of services, and new ways of doing international partnerships for both the business community and government.  In fact, this area is so important, that all actions in the GAP need to be thought of as enablers to this one overarching imperative.

Regulation. We need the UK to be an attractive environment for both starting up and growing space businesses, so that industrial and service sector supply chains for UK and international businesses get anchored here.  This will both increase domestic capacity, and provide international opportunities to other British businesses.  A huge amount of good work has been done already on regulation, not yet exposed by the GAP.  It is vital that the regulatory benchmark report proposed in action 2.1 is produced and published quickly, so that the subsequent actions can get underway.

Regional and Cross-sector Impact. The report rightly highlights the significant progress made at Harwell, and the tremendous national and European asset that we are building here.  However, the full value of this asset will only be realised when we can effectively and systematically use it to leverage activity right across the economy, with broad impact across all industry sectors and geographies.  We need to press forward with urgency on these actions.

I was personally involved in setting up the process that has led to the Space GAP, and in supporting it as it progressed, so I know the huge amount of effort that has gone into it, from a large group of people.  I think you can all be very pleased with the quality and inherent value that has resulted.  Two people in particular are worthy of special mention – Bob Waters from the UK Space Agency, and Mark Stevens from Astrium – for their roles in managing the process, and overseeing the final drafting.  However, tempting though it may be to relax now the report is produced, we have to see this the start of a new process rather than the end of an old one.  The challenges ahead are real, they are daunting and they are urgent. But we know what they are and how to tackle them, so we need to get started.  I look forward to joining you all on the journey.