UK space technologies sector might be at a nascent stage and smaller as compared to its US and Asian counterparts. However, in order to boost this industry, the government has endorsed some ambitious plans in the recent past. The UK space sector eyes to reach a target of 10% of the global space market share in a decade, which is by 2030. It intends to do the same by bringing together talent in a collaborative way.
Talking about the ambitious UK space sector, UKTN spoke to Dr Joanna Hart, Harwell Space Cluster Development Manager. Globally recognised hub Harwell Space Cluster comprises 105 space organisations including the UK and European space agencies. It also supports the UK space sector to achieve this goal by bringing companies together to share knowledge, identify opportunities for collaboration and highlight UK space sector capabilities to an international audience.
On asking if the UK’s space industry will be able to meet this target by 2030, she says, “This ambitious goal has brought all the players in the UK space sector together. This common alignment of purpose, along with great talent, companies and innovation means that the UK is well placed to deliver on its objective. The UK Government has signalled its ambition in space with the establishment of the National Space Council, indicating that all the levers of Government are ready to be used, as needed, to encourage the UK space sector to deliver on this target.”
While there are many space companies and startups in the UK that work towards to stand up against the likes of Google and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, It remains to be seen how these companies manage to do so. Having said that, here we list some of the ambitious next-generation space companies in the UK in 2020 and beyond.
Diamond Light Source – UK’s only synchrotron
CEO: Prof Andrew Harrison
Founded year: NA
Diamond Light Source works similar to a giant microscope by harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that is used by scientists to study anything from fossils, jet engines, viruses and vaccines. At the synchrotron, scientists can analyse samples of anything using a machine, which is 10,000 more powerful than conventional microscopes. Besides being the only national synchrotron in the UK, Diamond is also one of the most advanced scientific facilities in the world.
What’s interesting is that Diamond provides the national science infrastructure for free and researchers can access the primary facilities along with electron microscopy at the Harwell Campus via a competitive application process. Over 14,000 researchers from physical and life sciences use Diamond for their experiments.
CEO: Miguel Belló
Founded year: 2001
Deimos Space UK Ltd. is a subsidiary of Elecnor Deimos, a Spanish company with its headquarters in the UK. It is responsible for creating flight systems, launch vehicles and ground systems. The operation centre is located within Harwell Oxford Campus and next to the UK Space Agency. Opened in 2013, this centre handles all kinds of services including systems and applications that are to be used in Space.
The areas of expertise of Deimos Space UK include mission and flight engineering, global navigation satellite systems, flight software systems, space situational awareness, ground segment systems, remote sensing applications, and provision of image date. Elecnor Deimos has designed and operated two remote sensing satellites – Deimos-1 and Deimos-2. Deimos Space UK Ltd designed the applications used by these satellites involved in imaging and earth observation.
Founder/s: Mitsunobu Okada, Nobu Okada
Founded year: 2013
On-orbit service and logistics startup Astroscale was founded by Mitsunobu Okada and Nobu Okada in 2013 in Japan. It was started in the UK in 2017 and has been awarded a share of over £1M from the UK government. Astroscale aims to solve the problem of space debris, which is a major threat as more companies create satellites and constellations. This company works with the mission to extend the life of geostationary satellites, which make the orbital operating environment more sustainable.
Astroscale’s end-of-life orbital debris-removal technology intends to demonstrate its mission with the launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket. It uses two spacecraft that will find and latch on to the target debris to be de-orbited from the space.
As per an agreement that was signed between Astroscale and Israel-based Effective Space Solutions in June this year, the former acquires the latter’s intellectual property associated with Space Drone and hires its engineers and executives. Space Drone is the satellite servicing vehicle developed by Effective Space Solutions, which is yet to debut its operation.
Founder/s: Rafel Jordá Siquier
Founded year: 2015
Oxfordshire-based Open Cosmos founded in 2015 by Rafel Jordá Siquier delivers satellite-based solutions that are designed to tackle the biggest challenges faced by the Earth. The company offers all that is needed to bring actionable information from space from mission development software to ready-to-launch small satellite platforms. This spacetech company focuses on the development of innovative satellite infrastructure – building and operating complete space missions addressing mission management, manufacturing and launch of nanosatellites.
Basically, Open Cosmos intends to make satellites accessible across all industries, businesses and end users. Its services include urban mapping, monitoring of land, environment or infrastructure, early detection or prevention of situations such as leakage of harmful substances and more. Its mission is to work closely with institutions, governments, and companies all over the world and open up space for end users.
Founder/s: Volodymyr Levykin
Founded year: 2017
Skyrora is a space company based in Edinburgh. It operates with the vision to meet the increasing demand for small satellite launches by combining proven technology from previous launch programmes and modern-day innovation. This way, the company intends to create responsive and cost-effective access to space. Recently, Skyrora returned Black Arrow to the UK from the Australian Outback, where it landed. Notably, Black Arrow is the first ever rocket from Britain to have successfully placed a satellite in orbit.
In addition to designing, manufacturing and deploying rockets to clear the way for small satellite manufacturers looking to access space, Skyrora has conducted a series of static test fired of its LEO engine, which includes a test conducted in a vacuum chamber that can replicate the conditions that exist in space. The successful completion of the test shows that the sub-system of its three-stage orbital launcher – Skyrora XL is ready for launch and might be launched in 2023.
Trade in Space
Founder/s: Robin Sampson
Founded year: 2018
Glasgow-based Trade in Space develops satellite-activated smart contracting solutions. It provides necessary tools that let satellites to act in real-time as an autonomous commercial actuary. The company specialises in creating tradable contracts from remote sensing data. Playing a role in the global fintech sector, Trade in Space creates financial services products using data fetched by satellites. It is customised to improve the agricultural industry across the world and aims to use data from satellites in a better way to make peer-to-peer trade easier and fairer for financiers, farmers and wholesalers.
Founder/s: Richard Blain
Founded year: 2015
Earth-i based in Guildford provides a stream of space imagery for any given location on the Earth such as forests, ports, refineries, mines, construction sites, roads, farms, etc. The vision of the company is to provide a consistent flow of Earth Observation data that will drive powerful new insights indicating what’s happening on the planet in real-time. The company intends to deploy its own constellation of small and agile Earth Observation satellites.
Oxford Space Systems
Founder/s: Mike Lawton
Founded year: 2013
Oxford Space Systems based in Didcot develops new deployable antennas and structures that are lighter, less complex and not too expensive. Oxford Space Systems is working on contracts and collaborations with satellite builders in Europe and other emerging players in the microsat & nanosat markets in the US, Europe and Asia. Notably, the company intends to set two industry records with the successful deployment of the OSS AstroTube boom in under 30 months.
Founder/s: Alan Bond, John Scott Scott, Richard Varvill
Founded year: 1989
Abingdon-based Reaction Engines has developed an advanced combined cycle air-breathing rocket engine called SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine). This new class of aerospace engine is designed to enable aircraft to operate from standstill on the runway to hypersonic speeds of over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. Reaction Engines’ technology has undergone extensive independent technical assessments which have confirmed its viability and potential vehicle applications. The company’s leading heat exchange and advanced manufacturing capabilities find numerous applications in aerospace, cleantech, energy and other fields.
Founder/s: Tim Fuller
Founded year: 2013
Seradata Ltd (Space Equipment Research & Analysis) is based in Northampton.Seradata’s SpaceTrak3 offers the leading launch and satellite database in the space industry. SpaceTrak3’s analysts provide comprehensive, consistent, independent and authoritative information that covers each orbital launch and satellite since Sputnik decades back.
Challenges to overcome
Undoubtedly, the space sector all over the world has undergone a substantial change in over 10 years. This has resulted in a variety of satellites ranging from large, bus-sized ones to small and compact ones that are replaced frequently. These lower the cost of access to space and increase the rate at which satellites are replaced in space, thereby creating more opportunities and markets. But there are many challenges that are to be faced by these space companies in realising the same.
Dr Joanna Hart added, “The key challenge now is developing efficient supply chains that draw on capabilities and expertise from across the UK to ensure that the UK space sector collectively is a global leader in space. Harwell Space Cluster is a great place to stimulate and develop these supply chains, connecting companies within the Cluster and beyond, particularly through other UK Clusters. For example Lacuna Space and Oxford Space Systems recently collaborated on a mission to enable ground-based sensors to connect to the internet from remote areas.”