It was a historic first for Nasa when astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch conducted the first all-female spacewalk outside of the International Space Station (ISS). But while the US may be playing a lead role in the sector, there’s a galaxy of opportunities out there for UK businesses.
The government is investing heavily in the burgeoning space industry and hopes that home-grown firms can vacuum up 10 per cent of the anticipated £400bn global space market by 2030, creating 100,000 new jobs. Currently, the space economy supports 42,000 jobs in the UK and contributes £5.1bn to GDP.
We already have several existing world-class space clusters, most notably around the Harwell Space Cluster near Oxford, where the European Space Agency and businesses such as Airbus Defence & Space, Lockheed Martin’s space division and Thales Alenia Space have homes. Smaller, home-grown businesses have also sprung up, including Oxford Space Systems (antennas and other equipment), Rezatec (data analysis) and Neptec (cameras and sensors).
In the East Midlands, the University of Leicester has been working on space-related projects since the 1960s, while the government has just invested £100m in Space Park Leicester, an industry/academic cluster which will open in 2020 and is expected to create 2,500 jobs. Airbus has already said it will relocate its Earth Observation expert team there.
The burgeoning microgravity sector, which involves developing medicines and materials in low-gravity environments on vessels in orbit and is estimated to be worth over $110bn, is a growth area. The UK Space Agency has just launched a competition that offers up to £1m to companies that want to test their products on the ISS.
We’ve also got our share of mini Cape Canaverals. The government is investing £1.3m to develop horizontal spaceports, which launch satellites from planes, rather than NASA-style rockets, in Snowdonia, Argyle, Scotland and Newquay in Cornwall.
In 2018, the UK and Australian governments announced the creation of a ‘space bridge’ to allow collaboration between the two countries. And UK teams are leading three European Space Agency missions to develop an early-warning system for severe ‘space weather’ – the conditions in space around the Earth, including solar wind, which can damage infrastructure on Earth and human life in space. Fortunately, the ESA is not part of the EU, so our departure from the bloc shouldn’t affect these projects.
Image credit: DMITRY KOSTYUKOV via Getty Images