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U.K. Space Innovation and Growth Strategy

By | April 1, 2010

      “Space has been one of the hidden success stories of British industry in recent years.” So begins a comprehensive report issued in early February by a joint U.K. government, industry and academia initiative called the “Space Innovation and Growth Strategy” or Space IGS.

      The Space IGS was initiated by Lord Paul Drayson, U.K. Minister for Space and Innovation. The group based its report on a six-month consultation that gathered evidence across the space sector, covering both upstream development, construction and launch of satellites as well as downstream sale of commercial products and service to end users.

      The Space IGS report is especially ambitious as it covers so many aspects of space activity. Its ambitions for the U.K. space industry also are high. The report issues 16 recommendations for improving the already successful position of the United Kingdom in the space sector — aiming for “massive global leadership.” It argues the government could support efforts to grow the U.K.’s current share of the world space market from around 6 percent in 2007 to 10 percent over the next 20 years.

      The report provides all the pieces for convincing policymakers that this goal is worthwhile and achievable. It describes how the national space industry supports a substantial number of jobs, estimated at up to 68,000, which could be increased by 100,000 high-skilled jobs over 20 years. It notes the impressive contribution already added to the national GDP from the space sector and also describes the many other sectors in which the contribution of satellites is critical for supporting national infrastructure and goals.

      For example, the report says that “almost all TV content passes through a satellite at least once on its way to the home.” One interesting passage claims that “in 2030, satellite signals will be communicating with everything of value. That includes homes, mobile phones and vehicle — not to mention critical infrastructure.”

      Satellite contributes the most to five areas, according to the Space IGS: (1) satellite broadcasting, (2) communications services to remote services, (3) national infrastructure control through low-data rate services over a wide area, (4) navigation signals, i.e., GPS or Galileo signals and (5) Earth observation, including environmental sensing as well as military surveillance. The report then adds a sixth category of science, including exploring the solar system, which, however, contradicts its snippy comment a few pages before that U.S. manned spaceflight activities were “white elephant prestige projects.”

      To achieve a U.K. leadership position will require accelerating the growth of the national space industry, which already set a strong pace of 9 percent growth in recent years. In its first recommendation, the Space IGS urges policymakers to consider space as a strategic industrial sector and devote resources “appropriately.” This theme flows through all 16 recommendations.

      The report groups its recommendations into eight themes, which include regulating space for success. This category mainly concerns spectrum resources, the lifeblood of satellite communications. Thus, the Space IGS calls on the government “to take full account of the wider value of space-enabled services” when allocating spectrum and orbital slots. It wants the U.K. regulator to take the lead in improving the international procedures for registration of satellites. (But elsewhere in the main report the Space IGS considers whether the national regulator should have less, rather than more, authority over satellite spectrum.)

      Another major recommendation is to develop satellite resources to complement terrestrial infrastructure for next-generation broadband. The Space IGS argues that satellites very effectively can fill the significant gaps that remain in terrestrial networks. Those gaps could lead to satellite being the primary provider of broadband service for 20 percent of the population, which also would support a huge export market for satellite broadband.

      A closely related recommendation urges the United Kingdom to take the lead in promoting mobile satellite service as a core element of future emergency, safety and security communications.

      The report discusses at length the U.K.’s participation in the European Space Agency (ESA), recommending that the United Kingdom “should invest earlier, more consistently and at higher scale in ESA.”

      In conclusion, the Space IGS says that this sector could be worth 40 billion British pounds by 2030 (about $60 billion). The comprehensive report gives full throttle arguments and approaches for reaching for that goal. It is available at


      Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Hogan & Hartson Brussels office.

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