Since entering Number 10, the Prime Minister has committed to levelling up, delivering a net zero economy and investing in innovative growth industries. It is no exaggeration to say that all of these agenda areas are dependent on space.
Only by investing in space will the UK enable the journey to net zero and drive towards other top priorities. And yet with the Comprehensive Spending Review looming it remains unclear how the UK space programme will be funded in the years ahead.
For this reason, UKspace, the space sector industry body that I chair, is launching a new campaign urging the Prime Minister and Chancellor to invest to unleash the transformative potential of the space sector.
With COP26 fast approaching, we will seek to ensure that ministers and officials fully understand the key role that space will play in ensuring we achieve net zero by 2050.
Space-based technologies and space-derived information are central to climate knowledge, science, monitoring and early warning. Indeed, 35 of the 45 essential climate variables as defined by the heads of the UN Climate Change Committee are only able to be measured from space. The UK’s space industry is already equipping policymakers with tools to help monitor and improve the environment as never before, but much more needs to be done to enable the 2050 goal to be met.
Essential data from our satellite sector is starting to highlight how we can drive down emissions from heavily-polluting transport, such as by smart routing of our shipping freight and our commercial airlines. It is also advancing the management of pollution and allowing doctors to predict spikes in dangerous respiratory conditions like asthma, which kills three people in the UK every day.
In the future, new applications of satellite data, combined with satellite positioning and communications technologies will help drive down carbon emissions as well as providing key capabilities required to manage the devastating effects of the climate emergency to communities up and down the country and around the world.
If Britain is to achieve its potential as a space power, maintaining and building important overseas partnerships will be crucial.
And by investing in satellite technology to tackle the climate emergency, the UK could be a big winner in the new space race. As a UKspace report last year showed, the space sector holds the key to 15,000 green jobs being created in the UK by 2030. With the right investment in space, we could have a green jobs revolution with roles ranging from extreme weather data scientists, natural disaster hotspot monitoring consultants and natural environment investment analysts to agricultural satellite advisers, space-data enabled crop managers and air traffic control operatives enabled by space data.
Our campaign will also seek to press home the importance of space-based position navigation and timing for health, energy, communications, defence, transport and national infrastructure priorities. Our society is dependent on GPS with its pervasive use in so many systems, it has effectively become a utility along with water and electricity. However there are significant threats to GPS signals ranging from interference to spoofing and jamming that are increasing rapidly, and with GPS jamming equipment available for less than £10 on the internet.
If Britain is to achieve its potential as a space power, maintaining and building important overseas partnerships will be crucial. But as the share of our economy dependent on satellites grows rapidly, we must also aim to build up more of our own sovereign capability to protect our critical infrastructure and economy. A recent UK Government report concluded that loss of satnav would impact our economy by £1Bn per day.
The danger is that without such strategic action to ensure resilience in our position, navigation and timing , we could soon find ourselves sleepwalking into greater and greater dependency for our economic resilience and security.
Finally, we will call on ministers to recognise and respond to the critical role that space plays in fostering innovation in our economy by constantly advancing and welcoming new ideas. This reality here is that space enables many of the Government’s new economic and innovation strategies. Or as the science minister put it last year, the world of space technology is home to “our most ambitious innovators who are developing first of a kind technologies to help solve some of our greatest challenges”.
The latest available figures show that the UK space industry continued to grow before the pandemic hit. Total UK space industry income grew to £16.4 billion in 2018/19, a growth rate of 2.8% per annum since 2016/17. But the rate of growth is slowing, with the forecasted estimate for 2019/20 at £16.6 billion, a growth rate of only 0.8%.
If we do not invest in the space industry at the level needed to unleash its potential then we can expect growth to slow further. This would prevent us from moving forward while other nations make great leaps forward, spelling disaster for the UK’s international standing in the highly strategic space sector. It would also prevent the Prime Minister from making real progress on meeting his priorities here in the UK.
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