The UK’s booming space industry, and the case for a UK Spaceport

Published on Friday, 18 May 2012 15:54
Posted by Scott Buckler

The first report in the Institute of Directors’ (IoD) Infrastructure for Business series reveals the remarkable achievements and BRIC-style growth of Britain’s £8 billion space sector, and makes the case for a UK Spaceport to drive the industry even further in future

The report, Space – Britain’s New Infrastructure Frontier, studies the scale and breadth of a little-known sector which now supports 85,000 jobs in the UK. The author also investigates the causes of the private sector revolution which has driven Britain’s space sector, and explores the infrastructure and policy needs that would help it to grow even further.

They key findings of the report are:

  •     The £8 billion UK space sector employs around 25,000 people, supporting a further 60,000 jobs indirectly. It has more than doubled in size over the last decade, and if job growth continues at the 15% rate of the last few years, employment in the sector will reach 100,000 by 2020.

  •     The UK’s space sector came about largely thanks to unforeseen consequences of Britain’s early adoption of satellite broadcasting, allowing the UK to draw on the skills of overlapping world-class aerospace and defence industries. By contrast, the government has had very little involvement.

  •     The UK Space Agency receives all of £313 million in public funding – a mere 0.73% of the combined global space agency budget of $65 billion in 2010 – making the space sector one of the least subsidised parts of the UK economy.

  •     The end of NASA’s Space Shuttle programme is leading to a private sector space revolution, with a host of companies competing to provide space taxi services. Private sector innovation is rapidly lowering the cost of getting cargo into space. SpaceX, for example, already has contracts with NASA worth over $4 billion to launch cargos to the International Space Station and deliver satellites into orbit. Its Falcon 9 vehicle has lowered the cost per kilo to Low Earth Orbit to just over $5,000, compared with between $18,000 and $60,000 for the Space Shuttle.

  •     A spaceport would be a key piece of infrastructure for the UK’s space sector, operating as a hub for space tourism, research and development. Space tourists are willing to pay $200,000 for a mere three hours in space, and will have considerable disposable income that would help the wider local economy. The private sector could help fund the costs of a spaceport.

  •     A spaceport would have several requirements, including a long runway and its own undisturbed high altitude air corridor, which narrow down the location options. Lengthening the runway of an RAF base in Scotland or Northern Ireland would be a possibility, while the South West of England could represent an alternative location.

  •     The UK’s space sector also needs a proper regulatory framework for journeys out of the atmosphere. With no safety, environmental or flight regulations in place for trips into space from the UK, it’s harder for space pioneers to insure and calculate the cost of setting up – and hopefully clustering – upstream companies that build space hardware and downstream firms that offer space-related services in Britain. Options are being examined for regulatory control of UK-based spaceflight, and it is essential that this moves forward as quickly as possible.


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