Page last updated at 04:05 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Strategy to grow UK space sector

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

Wheel balance (SSTL)
The UK space industry has continued to grow through the recession

The UK space industry can become a much bigger global player, employing thousands more highly skilled workers and being worth over £40bn a year.

The projection is made in a report prepared jointly by industry, government, and academia.

The Space Innovation and Growth Strategy identifies key market opportunities - from internet provision via satellite to space tourism.

The report says greater investment will position the UK for future success.

The Space IGS wants to see R&D spending within industry increase by £5bn, and for the government to double its annual civil space budget to £550m over the next 10 years.

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"We're not actually asking government for a massive increase in spending; this would not take us anywhere near the top of the table in terms of what other countries spend as a percentage of GDP - we've been quite modest in that respect," explained Andy Green, CEO of Logica and chairman of the Space IGT.

"But what it would do - if we do it well and smartly, as we have done so up to now - is give us a real opportunity to create wealth, jobs and taxes which will pay back the investment handsomely," he told BBC News.

Space budget (SIGS)

The Space IGS is the latest in a series of innovation status reports commissioned by the government. Others have looked at biotechnology and the car industry.

The intention is to identify emerging market trends and the approaches that need to be adopted to exploit them.

The new strategy report makes 16 recommendations.

It throws its weight behind the idea of an executive national space agency to coordinate activity across government, and for the establishment of a "national space policy".

ExoMars eye test
The report wants to see the UK lead three major Esa missions by 2030

At the moment, space policy is devolved to a disparate group of Whitehall departments and research councils, who direct most of their money through two pan-European organisations - the European Space Agency (Esa) and Eumetsat, the body charged with operating Europe's weather satellites.

The report says a co-ordinated indigenous space policy allied to a national R&D programme would drive innovation and develop expertise.

This would enable the UK to lead major missions within Esa and also put the country in a position to win substantial industrial contracts as a result.

The strategy also calls for the UK to make greater use of the financial tools deployed by other countries to support their space industries, such government-backed loans or export credit guarantees.

It says the highly successful Private Finance Initiative which was used to build three next-generation communications satellites for the armed forces could be deployed again to build satellites for a national Earth observation programme.

Skynet 5C (Arianespace)
What PFI did for military satcoms it could now do for Earth observation

The PFI model sees the City put up the money to initiate a programme, and the government then effectively underwrite the risk by agreeing to become the prime customer.

"There has to be a recognition that we're up against not just other companies but other countries with big ambitions - countries like China, India, Japan, and even France and Germany," said Richard Peckham, the chairman of UK Space, an umbrella group representing the British industrial space sector.

"If we are going to succeed it's got to be through partnerships- so, working with academia, with government making clever procurement, and an industry willing to invest and take some risks."

If its recommendations are followed, the report forecasts that the domestic space industry could have a 10% share of a worldwide market that is expected to be worth some £400bn per year by 2030.

But the study warns that unless the government, the City and industry itself start investing more in space, current competitiveness will be undermined.

Andy Green said: "The UK has established a strong position and it's quite clear that without government and industry working together that position will erode. I think we need to be realistic about that; we're at a kind of tipping point."

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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