Government Supports Plans for UK Space Regional Growth

Nafeesa Dajda
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Space has established itself as one of the UK’s fastest-growing industries over the past 10 years, accelerating progress for companies of all sizes across an increasingly broad range of sectors. Identified as key to boost the UK’s productivity, the sector will benefit from further government support for regional growth as per last week’s announcement from the UK Space Agency.

Building on the strengths of the Centres of Excellence

In line with its ambition to get new research off the ground and into the market more quickly by connecting industry and academia, Satellite Applications Catapult in partnership with UK Space Agency established a Regional Centres of Excellence Programme across the UK in 2014 to coordinate activities and investment, and extend their reach locally. Five centres were initially created, outside of our bases at the Harwell Space Cluster and Westcott Space Business Park, to benefit businesses and start-ups in their localities, emanating from innovative ideas, some tackling real-world challenges, across a wide range of sectors.

Based in Durham, the centre’s overarching theme is using satellite applications to create a safer world, including (but not limited to) sustainable living and climate change, security of supply chains, building resilience in infrastructure and assets. Examples of projects supported by the centre include the opening of the UK’s only Orbital Analyst centre in Durham by specialist space awareness and surveillance company Northern Space and Security Ltd (NORSS); and the development of revolutionary components for the next generation of telecommunications satellites by technology company aXenic.

Embedded in the University of Portsmouth, the centre is committed to growing satellite applications in Transport & Logistics, Autonomous Systems, and Offshore Assets while utilising cutting-edge technological developments in Artificial Intelligence, Earth Observation & Navigation, and Communications. For example, the centre has recently worked with MercariRisk to secure funding for a project using Earth Observation data on Columbian farms for insurance purposes, and with Alcis, a company committed to improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people through world class Geographical Information Services.

Based in Cornwall with the University of Exeter as the lead delivery partner, the centre’s research areas include eHealth & eWellbeing, Marine & Maritime, Mining and Natural Capital. The centre partnership also includes Falmouth University and the University of Plymouth, and regional coverage includes Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. Examples of collaborative projects include Spaceport Cornwall horizontal launch site, ‘Connecting Healthcare’ (CHC) Project to deliver satellite-enabled healthcare for patients living in remote and rural Cornish & Scottish areas, Cyber-SHIP Lab to tackle Maritime cyber security and autonomous vehicle challenges empowered by satellites, and Cornish Lithium Remote Sensing Project (with Camborne School of Mines). The Centre also supports innovators and researchers to develop and commercialise space technologies and satellite applications, across wide-ranging sectors, for environmental and societal impact.

Two of the first centres  experienced significant support through local organisations and have since evolved from our Centres to establish local space leadership and community led space activities: including the Scottish Space Leadership Council and Space Park Leicester.

Following on the initial success of the regional initiative, the UK Space Agency and Satellite Applications Catapult are building additional capacity at the Centres with increased business development and technical resource to support business and innovative user engagement workshops to engage with businesses outside of the space sector.

Broadening the UK Space regional reach

The UK Space Agency has also announced the funding to support the development of new clusters in North-West England, Birmingham, West Yorkshire, Surrey and Hampshire, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) including representatives of academia, industry and local authorities will lead the clusters to identify opportunities the space sector could generate for economic growth in their region.

“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” commented Dr Colin Baldwin, Head of Local Growth Strategy at the UK Space Agency

Local start-ups and SMEs will be given access to expert knowledge and support at their doorstep, leveraging opportunities for strategy and business development.

Alan Cox, Chief Commercial Officer at Satellite Applications Catapult, said: “This announcement marks an important milestone for the evolution of the UK Space sector. Developing a stronger network across the UK is essential to foster new collaborations and bring innovative ideas to life. The UK Space Agency support to regional initiatives will enable us to identify new areas of research, bridge gaps in capability and generate market growth. We look forward to welcoming these new clusters into our established Space Ecosystem network.”

Satellite Applications Catapult regularly runs events for representatives of space sector organisations and academic researchers to meet and discuss ideas for future projects. The next one, December Satuccino, takes place on 2 December at 2.30pm. Follow the link to book your place.