By Michelle Duggan, Inward Investment Manager, Invest North East England
The UK Space opportunity
The UK has a vibrant space economy built on renowned science and technology, along with leading manufacturing and operational capabilities. There are highly innovative companies based in the UK that are part of an international space economy, with well-established global supply chains.
The UK’s National Space Strategy is based on the world leading manufacture of satellites, spacecraft and highly complex payloads as well as satellite communications technology, which is already established in the UK.
The cost and complexity of acting in space has fallen dramatically: miniaturisation, digitisation, reusability and increased private sector capital have all taken down barriers – allowing more countries and commercial players to enter the space arena.
‘New Space’ refers to the increasing commercialisation of the space sector and the rapid adoption of these space technologies in the private, rather than public sector. The global space economy is predicted to grow from an estimated £270 billion in 2019 to £490bn by 2030. Driven by an unprecedented demand for data and connectivity, this growth will create a new market for satellite enabled services and advances in technological innovation.
The space sector in the UK is undergoing a rapid transformation. In the UK, civil expenditure (government expenditure excluding defence) grew from £300m in 2014 to £700m in 2019.
The opportunities available to space and satellite companies locating to the UK is immense and the North East is quickly becoming a rising star in the UK space industry.
The North East
Space technologies in the North East have a lot to offer to support the UK’s ambition to become a science and technology superpower.
The North East is well regarded for its manufacturing capability and its traditional industries have modernised and adopted the very latest technologies and techniques. The region has a number of key strengths to support the development of the space sector, from advanced propulsion capability to new materials R&D in both industry and our five world-class universities.
There’s a cluster of companies in semiconductors and advanced materials looking at new mechanisms and materials and ways of improving efficiency and effectiveness of electric components. This existing cluster has the potential to put the North East at the heart of the emerging space technology market opportunity.
The region’s skills and experience offer great opportunities for the space sector. Transferable skills, gained from our well-established advanced manufacturing sector – such as automotive, precision engineering, advanced electronics and digital – ensures a strong pipeline of talent. Our universities and colleges recognise the importance of the sector and offer around 200 courses related to space and space technologies.
And it is not just the talent coming through from the universities, the research and development programmes being delivered are world leading. Northumbria University is one of only five university-led projects in the UK to secure funding from the £8million National Space Innovation Programme – the first UK fund dedicated to supporting the space sector’s development.
Academics from the University will work with County Durham company ISOCOM Limited to develop the world’s first commercially available laser-based satellite communication system design. The partnership will build and test small satellites, known as ‘CubeSats’, which will orbit the earth, transmitting data 100 times faster than currently possible.
Location is key. Our proximity to Scotland and the North Sea provides easy access to the spaceports and the potential to work in collaboration with the established Scottish space cluster. The North Sea has assets such as established shipping routes and offshore wind farms that can provide the ideal environment for testbeds and for businesses to develop new products and services using satellite applications.
Existing innovation assets such as, High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley, along with digital assets such as the National Innovation Centre for Data and PROTO, are all helping to drive growth in the sector.
The North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, funded by the UK Space Agency, and Satellite Applications Catapult, have been leading on the development of a thriving space cluster since 2014. Based in County Durham, the centre brings together industry leaders and academic expertise to drive forward a growing space cluster and exploit the new opportunities.
There’s also a proposal for a £20m North East Space Hub and space facility to provide infrastructure at NETPark in County Durham, which will amplify and transform our region to capitalise on the space opportunity.
North East Supply Chain Opportunities
There’s so much happening here that it’s no surprise that space and satellite companies, such as Lockheed Martin, are looking at the UK to locate a brand-new global satellite manufacturing facility. The North East offers lots of benefits for such a site as it has strong manufacturing heritage and a growing space cluster of companies and academia.
On 1st March, Lockheed Martin are hosting a supplier and skills event in Newcastle. The Summit will bring together supply chain representatives from across Lockheed Martin with a view to identifying a variety of regional and national suppliers to support their UK space operations. Skills providers will be invited to find out more about recruitment and talent development opportunities in the region.
Invest North East England, in partnership with the Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, have supported Lockheed Martin in engaging with companies in the North East that can help deliver their ambitions. Supply Chain North East has also been a key delivery partner for the event, bringing their expertise in helping North East companies identify untapped opportunities and diversify into new markets.
Space, satellite manufacture and applications and defence sectors all have a role to play in levelling up – and not just in manufacturing investment. Social value is an increasingly important factor in large scale contracts and the National Space Strategy commits to developing a space ecosystem that spreads employment across the UK.
Increasing R&D funding will further unlock the North East’s capabilities and enable universities and innovative companies to innovate and collaborate in space and satellite technologies. An extra £2.5bn funding for Innovate UK has been announced in the long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper. Importantly, 55 per cent of previously announced increases to research budgets will, by 2024-25, be spent outside London and the South East.
North East Space Conference
Want to learn more about opportunities in the Space Sector?
The North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, supported by the UK Space agency and Satellite Applications Catapult has put together an exciting programme for the North East Space Conference 2022 – New Frontiers on 2nd March.
Hear from keynote industry leaders who are at the forefront of the future of the space sector, meet and network with like-minded peers and find out more about space sector in the North East.
Visit Invest North East England for more information about the region’s space sector.