EU Space Forum - Banner

Brexit In Orbit: UK Space Industry Added 3,400 Jobs In Two Years In Spite Of Uncertainty

Great Britain and Ireland. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency.

The UK’s space sector has seen significant growth in income, exports and employment with total income now standing at 14.8 billion pounds (U.S.$19.2 billion), Science Minister Chris Skidmore has announced.

The main findings from the independent ‘UK space industry: size and health report’ show that, compared to the 2016 survey:

  •  income up from 13.7 billion pounds (U.S.$13.77 billion) to 14.8 billion pounds (U.S.$19.2 billion);
  •  employment up from 38,522 to 41,900;
  •  exports up from 5 billion pounds (U.S.$6.49 billion) to 5.5 billion pounds (U.S.$7.13 billion).

The report also shows that an average of 39 new companies have been added to the UK space sector every year since 2012. This is the most authoritative survey of the sector. After the previous survey showed a slowing annual growth rate to 1.6% in 2014/15, today’s figures show an acceleration with annual rates of 2.1% for 2015/16 and 4.5% for 2016/17.

Much of this growth is due to space manufacturing, including satellites, ground systems and components, which increased at a rate of 27% per year. The UK has significant capabilities in this area, building major parts for one in four of the world’s commercial telecommunications satellites.

Beyond the direct effects of the space industry, the satellite services industry supports a wealth of other sectors worth an estimated 300 billion pounds (U.S.$389.18 billion) of UK GDP, up from 250 billion pounds (U.S.$311.34 billion) from the previous survey. Earth observation services, such as data for monitoring land use and agriculture, is a significant growth area, supporting 92 billion pounds (U.S.$119.35) of GDP and growing at a rate of 25% per year.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Our Space industry is a great UK success story. New innovations and pioneering experts are helping the sector to grow faster than the rest of the economy as whole.

“The industry is not only providing thousands of new high-skilled jobs but supports a wealth of other sectors worth an estimated 300 billion pounds to the UK.

“By investing in important infrastructure such as the National Satellite Test Facility near Oxford and establishing satellite launch capabilities, our modern Industrial Strategy is helping our space sector to thrive.”

Space is a UK export success story, generating over a third (37%) of income from international trade. The UK’s ongoing membership of the European Space Agency, which is independent of the EU, generates 29% of these exports. France and the United States account for the largest share of exports to individual countries at 40% and 8%, respectively, with significant potential to grow these further and expand into more international markets.

Broadcasting accounts for just over half of space industry income (51%), and as the sector continues to diversify, there has been strong growth in areas such as the supply of devices and equipment that use satellite data. EU space programmes such as Galileo account for 2.5% of the total income. Defence and military have seen strong growth, increasing from 2% to 8% of income.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Britain is a world leader in the space industry. These figures show that we’re developing pioneering satellite technology which will help to guarantee our national security in the future and maintain a military advantage over our adversaries.

“This remarkable growth is not just good news for our military, it reflects our commitment to building the space industry here in the UK. The sector now supports over 40,000 jobs across the country, and we’re committed to expanding it in the years to come.”

The UK continues to outperform the global space sector. Since 2007/08, the UK has seen cumulative growth of 91% compared with world growth of 42%. The exchange rate is important when comparing the UK’s space income with the global space market, which is calculated in U.S. Dollars. The depreciation of Sterling against the Dollar over recent years means that our current share of the global space market stands at 5.1%. If the exchange rates were fixed at 2006/07 levels this would be 8.1%, although the current exchange rate also makes UK exports more competitive.

Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Our ambition to grow the UK space sector to 10% of the global market continues to drive our efforts to support the industry. The latest figures show welcome progress on growth and highlight the many areas where there is significant potential to build on our successes, using the extensive skills, experience and capabilities we have across the country.”

There is confidence in the sector, with 73% of organisations expecting income growth over the next three years and 48% of those expecting it be more than 10% higher than in the previous three years. The workforce is also expected to grow, with 93% of organisations predicting job numbers to grow or maintain their current level.

Case studies

Spire Global
Spire Global is a satellite and data analysis company that was founded in San Francisco and set up its European headquarters in Glasgow, where it has built more than 80 satellites since 2014. The company specialises in data from small satellites in a low-earth orbit. In February 2018, the UK Space Agency awarded more than 4 million pounds (U.S.$5.19 million) to Spire to demonstrate cutting-edge space technology, including parallel super-computing. The UK Space Agency is also supporting a space incubation centre in Glasgow and has provided support over several years to the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications, based at the University of Strathclyde.

Thales Alenia Space UK
Thales Alenia Space in the UK was established in 2014 with offices in Bristol, Harwell, and Belfast and is a leader in propulsion systems, Earth observation and science mission subsystems, and next generation payloads for telecoms, military satellites, and satellite constellations. Belfast is home to Thales Alenia Space’s multi-million pound Electric Propulsion Integration Centre, delivered in 2016. The site recently delivered the first all-electric propulsion module designed and built in the UK, the Spacebus Neo Xenon Propulsion System (XPS). The company’s space-related jobs in the UK have grown from 10 in 2014 to 200 in 2018 based across Belfast, Bristol and Harwell. That total is estimated to grow to 350 by 2020.

Oxford Space Systems
Since forming in 2013, Oxford Space Systems has raised more than 10 million pounds (U.S.$12.97 million) to build innovative and lightweight spacecraft antennas and deployable booms which are lower cost than those currently available to commercial satellite manufacturers. In 2015, the company was selected for the UK Space Agency’s AlSat Nano mission, achieving a world-first with the longest ever retractable CubeSat boom in orbit at 1.5 metres. It currently employs around 30 staff but is set to expand significantly and recently moved to a new headquarters at the Harwell Space Cluster. This week the MOD announced a 1 million pounds (U.S.$1.3 million) investment in the development of an innovative ‘wrapped rib’ antenna by the company.

Check Also

SERA and NASRDA Partner to Send First Nigerian to Space

The Space Exploration & Research Agency (SERA) and the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) today announced a groundbreaking partnership to send the first Nigerian into space. Under the partnership, SERA will reserve a seat on an upcoming Blue Origin New Shepard suborbital spaceflight for a Nigerian citizen as part of a broader SERA-led initiative, in partnership with Blue Origin, to send six individuals from nations historically underrepresented in space exploration.