Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

Nurturing U.K. expertise: a strategic imperative in the emerging space era

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun1,2024

The space race of the 1950s and 1960s, epitomized by the Apollo 11 moon landing, ignited a generation’s fascination with space exploration, turbocharging developments in technology. Fast forward to the present and the space ecosystem is changing: once a domain accessible only to governments, space now affects nearly every aspect of life on earth. 

The successful landing of India’s Chandraayan-3 on the lunar south pole last year showed the growing international competition to seize an advantage in space. In this era, the victors will be the nations that spearhead innovation through the pursuit of skills. 

Investment in the global space sector has grown from $300 million in 2012 to over $10 billion in 2021. The reduction in commercial space exploration costs has enabled investors to seek out emerging space industries such as mining, debris removal and energy production. In addition, the proliferation of satellites — with nearly 7,500 orbiting Earth and an average of fifty new ones launched weekly — is delivering technological advancements that underpin integral parts of daily life, from ride-hailing services to an array of entertainment options. 

Growing geopolitical tensions on earth, and a requirement to possess strategic advantage, are driving ventures into space. Adversaries are actively pursuing capabilities that could disrupt critical infrastructure or even pose direct threats. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson brought this point home all too well earlier this month when he alerted Capitol Hill to China’s deliberate concealment of military initiatives in space under the guise of “so-called civilian space programmes.” This came after several security analysts reported that China and Russia are both engaging in worrisome and “unfriendly” space activities. In the face of this activity, it is clear that without robust investment in space capabilities, nations risk ceding strategic advantage.

So how does the United Kingdom respond? Investments in strategic capabilities show that the role of the private sector in space is only going to grow. But while private capital plays a role in driving success, it is clear in my mind that a nation’s success lies in acquiring the skills and infrastructure to understand and develop innovative technical capabilities. To achieve this, the government must embrace academia, capitalize on private investment in the sector and continue to foster partnerships among the three — and seek opportunities to strengthen them in areas where they are weak. 

To remain competitive, the U.K. must maximize its equities: its talent pool, world leading infrastructure and access to export markets. Bolstered by a robust foundation that sees the U.K. space sector employing nearly 49,000 individuals, contributing 5.9 billion pounds ($7.41 billion) to exports, and showcasing unparalleled productivity. Acknowledging this basis, the U.K. Space Agency recently announced a new headquarters and four regional facilities. In addition to fostering local talent and employment opportunities, these locations will allow the Agency to work more closely with the U.K.’s booming space sector to achieve ever-more ambitious missions and capabilities. The decision of the U.K. government to invest 10 million pounds ($12.6 million), which joins 40 million pounds of private investment to date, in SaxaVord Spaceport, the first and only licenced vertical launch spaceport in Europe, is just another indication of this boom. With this in mind, and if strategic investment keeps up this pace, the country is well-positioned to become a science and technology powerhouse by 2030.

This drive is being spearheaded by Science, Information, and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan, who has rightly explained that the U.K. is already at the forefront of the century’s most important scientific work. But both Michelle and I know that to remain at the forefront of the global space economy and ensure national security, the challenge lies in cultivating a skilled workforce. 

Recognising this imperative, the U.K. government published the National Space Strategy in Action, which commits to providing the private sector with access to an educated and skilled labour force by taking a comprehensive approach to education and workforce development.

In the immediate future, however, the U.K. faces a shortfall in STEM graduates, necessitating a substantial focus on engineering, attracting global talent, and harnessing groundbreaking technologies such as AI. In short, the space sector should embrace competition for the skills that will develop national security capability and unlock the economic benefits that space offers. 

But at a time when space is assuming a heightened national security dimension, with reports of China, Russia and even North Korea working to put military capability into orbit, the race for skills becomes more urgent. The U.K.’s future prosperity and security are inextricably linked to the pursuit of advanced space capabilities and requires a renewed emphasis on collaboration. 

Fostering closer partnerships between the government, the private sector and academia should be prioritized to ensure the UK possesses the skills and cultivates the talent necessary to confidently stride into the future of space exploration. Failure to do so risks the U.K. falling behind global allies and more worryingly adversaries.  

Shonnel Malani was appointed Lead Non-Executive Director at the U.K. Department for Science, Innovation and Technology in April 2023. Shonnel is an experienced business leader with over 20 years’ of experience in the financial and private equity sectors. As Managing Partner of Advent International, he has overseen significant investment in innovative companies across the U.K., U.S. and Europe. He is currently a Non-Executive Director of space technology company Maxar and chair of U.K.-headquartered aerospace and defense companies Cobham and Ultra Electronics.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Nurturing U.K. expertise: a strategic imperative in the emerging space era”
  1. As a space enthusiast, I believe nurturing U.K. expertise is crucial for staying competitive in the emerging space era. The successful landing of India’s Chandraayan-3 highlighted the intense international competition in space, emphasizing the need for nations to invest in innovation and skills to secure their position.

  2. I believe that investing in the nurturing of expertise within the U.K. is crucial for the country to stay competitive in the ever-evolving space industry. As space exploration becomes more accessible globally, it is imperative for the U.K. to lead innovation efforts and develop cutting-edge skills to secure a position among the key players in this strategic sector.

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