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UK sets out plan to propel private investment into space tech

UK Space tech
Image credit: Dima Zel / Shutterstock

The government has published a plan that aims to drive public and private investment into the space tech sector as part of its goal to make the UK a “science and tech superpower” by 2030.

The tech department this week published its Space Industrial Plan, building on the National Space Strategy (NSS) from 2021, as well as last year’s National Space Strategy in Action publication.

The UK space industry, though far from world-leading, has been growing rapidly, with significant funding being poured into the sector.

Recently licensed spaceports in Shetland and Cornwall, as well as growing British startups such as Skyrora, are some of the signs that the UK space sector is on the rise. Government figures from 2021, the most recently available, show the UK space sector employs 48,000 people.

Looking to capitalise on this growth potential, the government has set out a new list of actions to support space tech between now and 2030.

Driving investment

The plan highlighted the need to encourage private investments into UK space tech, stating that “it is unlikely that the sector’s ambitions will be fulfilled solely through government support”.

To do this, the DSIT report called for the implementation of a Private Investment Framework for Space that would assess different investors and their origins to direct funds towards specific areas of the sector.

The strategy includes changing investor perception of the industry, which can be seen as resource-intensive with long and uncertain roadmaps to generating revenue compared to other areas like fintech or AI.

London has been identified as a target for the leading hub to finance the space industry, with plans to secure this reputation in part through a space finance conference in the autumn.

“We want to be a part of the exciting world that space can create, from the UK becoming a launch pad for polar orbit to manufacturing pharmaceuticals and printing organs in microgravity,” said Science Minister Andrew Griffith and Defence Procurement Minister James Cartlidge in a joint foreword. “By embracing the world space can create, we will improve lives.”

Reforming regulation

The plan also identified regulation as a critical area to be addressed to improve the UK’s space standing.

The government will publish a review of space regulation to identify the growth barriers for the industry and source recommendations to address them.

Specific areas that have already been highlighted for reform include streamlining the orbital application process, simplifying, amending and combining relevant legislation, ensuring growth in the sector is done sustainably and identifying financial tools to support market access.

Other plans include growing the UK’s space workforce with skills training, encouraging participation from underrepresented groups and improving government procurement of space technology to provide companies with greater opportunities to secure government contracts.

Alongside the Space Industrial Plan, the government has unveiled public funding for six projects in the space tech industry.

Delivered by the UK Space Agency, £750,000 has been awarded to projects including developing the space tech community in the north of England and the South West, a project exploring the use of space tech in agriculture and another monitoring algae growth and seaweed production.

In this week’s Spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced £10m of government funding would go towards the SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland to support orbital launch projects in 2024.

Read more: UK space tech predictions for 2024