Despite its engineering pedigree, Britain's space sector has never enjoyed the kind of recognition achieved by the likes of America's NASA and the Russian cosmonauts of the 20th century. But it seems the country's efforts to conquer the final frontier are heating up.
Today it emerged that venture firm Seraphim Capital is set to launch a new fund aimed at boosting Britain's space industry start-ups. The £80m pot, backed by the likes of Thales and Airbus, will focus on small companies that have major growth potential. It seems the launch has come about thanks to a shift in the nature of Britain's space industry, which is increasingly easy for small companies to get involved with.
'There are now space companies we can invest in that have the same economics we would have with other technology companies,' Mark Boggett, Seraphim's MD told the FT. 'We can now value space companies side by side with terrestrial businesses.'
Space is touted as an important growth area for the future of the British economy. A report published yesterday by the trade association UKSpace claimed the sector has been growing a steady 8.6% year-on-year since 2008-9, has trebled in size since the turn of the millennium and employs 37,000 people.
'Space and satellites can make a significant contribution to driving UK productivity at large,' said Richard Peckham, a director of UKSpace. 'The consistent growth rate is thanks in part to continued UK Government support through national space missions, incubator support, and funding opportunities, as well as through membership of the European Space Agency.'
While international big-hitters like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have had some teething problems with their plans for manned commercial space flights, specialist companies in the UK have been thriving - from the big players like Inmarsat and Astrium to Glasgow's Clyde Space, which makes tiny low-cost satellites. In March the Government announced plans to open a commercial spaceport by 2018, in a bid to help more businesses get their technology off the ground, so to speak.
It's not just businesses that are seizing the opportunities on offer - last year a group of scientists backed by the Royal Astronomical Society also managed to raise enough money to fund the early stages of a planned mission to the moon. No longer the preserve of big Government agencies and sci-fi films, getting into space is an increasingly accessible aim for everybody.