United Kingdom expands its influence, and importance, in space industry

Planning to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030, the United Kingdom (UK) launched two new space facilities last week, and announced participation in a revolutionary communications satellite project, called Quantum, via the local arm of Airbus Defence and Space.

Analytical agencies report that global space economy will grow twice by 2030s, from near $300 billion it was estimated in 2014. According to 2014-2030 Space Growth Action Plan, the UK commits to raise its share in global space economy to 10% by the end of the given period. Taking into account that previous year UK's share was estimated at about 5%, or $15 billion, the Plan means growth of UK's space sector almost twice as fast as the market.

Concept view of the UK Spaceport, expected to launch its first suborbital flight in 2018. Credit: UK Space Agency
Preview 55a369e35370611c21730000

On July 9, Jan Woerner, ESA Director General, and Jo Johnson, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science, took part in the opening ceremony of ESA's first center in the UK, European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) on the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. Ceremony was attented also by the first ESA Director General, Roy Gibson, after whom the new building was named.

ECSAT, having been developed steadily since 2008, will host 120+ jobs including teams in telecommunications and integrated applications. Special emphasis will be put on the development of new markets for satellite-based services and applications. The building will house the Earth Observation Climate Office, Science and Exploration, and Technology and Quality Management teams supporting ESA's R&D programmes in the UK.

"Putting cutting-edge knowledge and innovation and world-class space testing facilities right on the doorstep, the opening of the European Space Agency and R100 facilities at Harwell today are a major boost to the UK’s space sector." Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science of the UK

There was also held opening ceremony of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory's (RAL Space) Space Development and Test Facility, called R100 building. It includes two new 5 meter in diameter Space Test Chambers along with a vibration facility, clean rooms and Assembly, Integration and Verification (AIV) control room. These enhanced facilities will be used for important future projects including ESA's Sentinel 4 mission as part of Copernicus program, and solar and heliospheric physics within the Solar Orbiter mission. Cost of development of the state-of-art facility is estimated at £27.7 million ($43 million).

ESA's website notes that expansion of the Agency to the UK matches increased importance given to space by the UK:

  • UK space industry turnover has been growing at an annual average of 7.3% as recorded in 2012/2013;
  • It is worth £11.3 billion ($17.5 billion) to the UK economy, employing over 34,000 people and supporting a further 65,000 jobs in other sectors;
  • 70% of the UK space industry's production is exported.

Aerial view of the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. Credit: ESA
Preview 55a3797153706105dad10000

Inauguration for the multimillion pound space facilities was also the backdrop for the first contract signed from the new ECSAT center – a €180 million ($200 million) contract between ESA and Eutelsat for the first-of-its-kind class of geostationary communications satellite to be manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space in the UK, using flexible payload technology and a new platform from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL).

Quantum program, public-private partnership between ESA, Eutelsat, and Airbus Defence & Space, foresees development of a chameleon-like satellite that can adapt to new commands in coverage, frequency band, power use and even orbital position. This will make it the first generation of universal satellites able to serve any region of the world, and adjust to new business without necessity to buy and launch an entirely new satellite.

Artist's concept of a Quantum satellite. Credit: ESA
Preview 55a37d005370611c21750000

Such ability to mirror or complement another satellite anywhere in geostationary orbit will transform fleet management and result in a more efficient use of resources. The first reconfigurable Quantum satellite, featuring software-defined 'receive' and 'transmit' coverages in Ku-band, including on-board jamming detection and mitigation, will be delivered in 2018 and operated by Eutelsat to serve government, mobile and data markets.

With plans to build a national spaceport that will host commercial spaceflight companies, being home for Reaction Engines (developer of Skylon innovative spaceplane project, recently unveiled some secrets of SABRE hybrid hypersonic propulsion) and SSTL, world's leading maker of small and medium class satellites with 30-years experience, as well as having number of innovational R&D space centers, such as Satellite Applications Catapult in Oxfordshire, the UK is steadily turning into a real power in the world's space industry.

European and UK's space industry executives in front of the new ECSAT center. Credit: ESA
Preview 55a3845653706105dad30000
Next article Successful launch of Atlas V with GPS IIF-10 satellite! Previous article India successfully orbited its heaviest commercial mission